Human Exceptionalism

Sex Selection Coming to America

Will Saletan, with whom I often disagree but whose journalism and pondering in the area of biotechnology is top notch, has an article out in Slate about how sex selection is coming to America. From his column:

Two days ago, economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examining the ratio of male to female births in “U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents.” Among whites, the boy-girl ratio was essentially constant, regardless of the number of kids in a family or how many of them were girls. In the Asian-American sample, the boy-girl ratio started out at the same norm: 1.05 to 1. But among families whose first child was a girl, the boy-girl ratio among second kids went up to 1.17 to 1. And if the first two kids were girls, the boy-girl ratio among third kids went up to 1.5 to 1. This 50 percent increase in male probability is directly contrary to the trend among whites, who tend to produce a child of the same sex as the previous child.
There’s no plausible innocent explanation for this enormous and directionally abnormal shift in probability. The authors conclude that the numbers are “evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage.”

Saletan then moves beyond the cultural issues driving this and focuses on the technological:

The spread of fetal or embryonic sex-identification tests, which can be taken in the privacy of your home at increasingly early stages of pregnancy, makes it easier for sex selection to spread beyond its original cultural base. So does the emergence of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which lets you chuck your conceived offspring before pregnancy even begins.

In fact, the 2000 census data reviewed by Almond and Edlund suggest that within the base population, selection of male fetuses has indeed increased

He then concludes with his usual criticism of both sides of the debate–as is his wont–but here, the fire at pro lifers is wholly unwarranted, and indeed, a cheap shot:

If you think of yourself as a techno-progressive–someone who believes, as Barack Obama does, that “maximizing the power of technology” will help fix everything from energy to the environment to health care–the increase in sex selection should give you pause. Technology can facilitate regression as easily as it facilitates progress. But if you think of yourself as a pro-life conservative, the data should humble you, too. In the populations in which it has increased, sex selection isn’t a newfangled perversion. It’s a custom, and a patriarchal one at that.

Saletan should hang around more pro-lifers. They don’t worship at the altar of patriarchy and tradition for the sake of patriarchy and tradition. Indeed, I am not sure they accept patriarchy at all since most leaders I have met are female with supportive husbands. But be that as it may, Saletan’s odd guilt by association won’t fly. What pro lifers care fervently about is a value system that holds human life to be sacred from the moment of conception through natural death–and consequently, they wholeheartedly accept all babies–male and female, well and ill, able bodied and disabled–and many put their lives where their mouths are by adopting infants and children that nobody else will have.

There may be many reasons to criticize religious conservatives in the pro life community, but any association with having anything to do with sex selection or neo eugenics just ain’t one of them. To the contrary, they are among those evils’ greatest opponents.