Fertility clinics offer choice -- boy or girl

February 25, 2008 11:06:41 AM PST
Fertility research has come a long way since the first baby was born through IVF 30 years ago. Today, it's even possible -- and legal -- to choose the sex of your child. But should you? People have been trying to play a role in determining the sex of their children for thousands of years. But whether your nursery is pink or blue has always been left up to chance -- until now. Not only is it possible to use science to choose the sex of your child -- it's virtually guaranteed -- and in the U.S., it's legal.

Fertility specialist Jeffrey Steinberg has been doing in vitro fertilization since it started 30 years ago. Fast forward to 2008, and he now offers patients another breakthrough: choosing the sex of their children.

"If they want a boy, we give them only boys and if they want a girl, we give them only girls; and in thousands of cases, we've never gone wrong," said Jeffrey Steinberg, MD.

Gender selection for non-medical reasons is illegal in many countries -- China, India, Germany, the UK, even Canada. But in the U.S., it's legal.

The most sure-fire way to have a boy or girl is with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD. Once only done to separate healthy embryos from unhealthy ones, PGD is now done for the sole purpose of choosing a baby's sex.

"It's extraordinarily important to those that desire to have it," said Jeffrey Steinberg, MD.

By extracting just one cell of an embryo before it's implanted, Doctor Steinberg can tell an embryo's sex. Two X's -- a girl. One X and one Y -- a boy.

"We're looking right at the genetics and if the genetics say it's a boy, it's going to be a boy. And if the genetics say, it's a girl, it's going to be a girl," said Jeffrey Steinberg, MD.

Kirsten Landon has already raised two girls. But Matthew, her husband of six years, wanted a baby of his own. They needed IVF and they chose Doctor Steinberg to do it because he also offered sex selection.

"We were quite focused once we had decided. We were like, we know what we want, let's go get it," said Kirsten Landon, used gender selection.

The Landon's chose a girl.

Doctor Tarun Jain's studies show in the U.S., the desire for boys or girls is equal.

"If they have two or three children that are all boys or all girls, they're interested in having the opposite sex," said Tarun Jain, MD.

But many Americans don't want the option. While 41-percent of infertility patients would choose their baby's sex, less than 18-percent of the general population would.

"I think there are still many people who strongly feel that this should not be allowed," said Tarun Jain.

And many clinics, including Doctor Jain's, won't do it. Ethicist Ken Goodman questions why people would want to.

"I've had 3 girls and 2 boys, therefore if I have one boy, I'll balance the family -- as if your children were bookends," said Ken Goodman, PhD.

What's more troubling, he says, is when people who don't have any children choose.

"They are basically saying that they want to use the science now of gender selection to discriminate against half of civilization, half of the people on Earth," said Ken Goodman, PhD.

But Doctor Steinberg says it's only a matter of time before gender selection is widely accepted.

"It's new. We know it's controversial. It scares people. But I've been doing in vitro fertilization for 30 years and 30 years ago, in vitro fertilization was new," said Jeffrey Steinberg, MD.

Kirsten and Matthew welcomed the option to choose. Now, they can't wait to welcome their daughter.

"Extraordinarily excited. Well, I don't know if there's really a way to tell if you are ready or not," said Matthew Landon.

Doctor Steinberg says 70-percent of his patients are from other countries where gender selection is illegal. Even major health Organizations do not agree on the issues. While the American College of obstetricians and gynecologists opposes gender selection for personal selection reasons, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says it is OK for family balancing.