In all but one case the fathers either lived in or travelled to the US or Thailand: countries where preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) for social sex selection (SSS) was available at the time. None already had children. Ten of the twelve children that resulted were boys, mostly resulting from all-boy, multiple pregnancies (one set of triplets, two sets of twins). Might these memoirs reveal a larger pattern?
A US study of 40 gay-father families created through (predominantly gestational) surrogacy, and 55 lesbian-mother families created through donor insemination, found that 60 percent of the men's children were boys and 40 percent were girls, while the children born to women were 50.9 percent boys, 49.1 percent girls (Blake et al. 2016; Golombok et al. 2017:6). The sample is not large enough to be conclusive, but together with the memoirs, it does raise the question of whether sex selection for boys is taking place among gay men who choose gestational surrogacy.
If they are, do the standard ethical objections to SSS pertain? For example, how relevant is the concern that sex selection reinforces gender stereotyping when the parents themselves are nonconforming? Gay dad memoirs and documentaries (Layne 2017) indicate that these fathers are not immune to gender stereotyping when it comes to parenting. The Daddy of the documentary 'Daddy and Papa' described feeling shame when their adopted son engaged in feminine behaviour, such as dressing up in a neighbour's high-heeled shoes, and recognised this as internalised homophobia. On the other hand, when their son showed enthusiasm for sports, the dads felt out of their element, having avoided sports themselves as children.
One of the reasons the notion of 'family balancing' is seen to be morally acceptable is because it endorses the cultural ideals of diversity and equality. But since the normative nuclear family is a man and a woman, a boy and a girl, is this not just reproduction of the heterosexual parents and if a male couple has two boys, is that not comparable? However, if the principle is self-replication, why do we not find a preference for girls in lesbian and heterosexual single-mother-by-choice families? Sperm sorting boasts a higher success rate for girls (Bahtia), having first been used by the dairy industry to increase the incidence of female calves (Rath et al), and could be just as effective as PGD is for men in producing sex-homogeneous families.
The issue, then, is not sex selection, but male selection. Other evidence suggests that in Europe and the US, SSS is used most often to produce boys (Lemke and Rüppel 2019:89, Sharp et al. 2010). The Gallup polls indicate male preference is predominant among would-be American fathers and has changed very little over the past 78 years. In 2018, 43 percent of the men surveyed said they would want a son compared to 24 percent who opted for a daughter (Newport 2018). Women responding to the Gallup poll have consistently shown no preference.
Another common objection to SSS is that unlike consumer goods, 'whose characteristics it is legitimate to select according to one's desires', children are a gift to be accepted and loved unconditionally (Scully et al. 2006:754). But even without PGD, gestational surrogacy almost always involves purchase of desirable traits. Commercial egg donation presents would-be fathers with a wide selection to choose from, something many of the memoirists say makes them uncomfortable, just as women who buy sperm report when faced with such an array of consumer choice (Layne 2013). But choose they do. Both groups often choose a donor who is tall because of the perceived 'advantage in life' height gives (Bonnie quoted in Tober 2019: 75); 'tall people are statistically more successful' (Hirschi 2015:136).
Being male also increases the likelihood of economic success. Despite The Ethics Committee of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine's (1999) reassurance that 'gender discrimination is not as deeply intertwined with economic structures in the United States as it may be elsewhere,' men are still more likely to succeed economically than women in the US and in the UK as seen in the ongoing gender-based wage gap (15 percent in the US and 17.9 percent in the UK).
A final ethical problem with the use of PGD for sex selection is it puts pressure on egg donors to produce more eggs so that there will be enough healthy embryos of the sex of the fathers' choosing. Elsewhere I have argued that traditional surrogacy is a more ethical method of undertaking family making via surrogacy because it poses fewer health risks for the surrogate and eliminates the need for egg harvesting. It also eliminates the temptation of using PGD for sex selection.
In countries where PGD for SSS is legal, clinics can achieve a market advantage by attracting reproductive tourists from countries where it is not. Whittaker (2011) describes those who partake as 'reproduction opportunists, exploiting regulatory deficiencies and biomedical entrepreneurialism to purchase whatever services they desire, whether they be sex traits or any of the other myriad of technologies promoted by global capitalism.'
My take on it is that gay men and heterosexual single-fathers-by-choice who use gestational surrogacy and are therefore demonstrably willing to spend large amounts on family-making are likely targets for those seeking to profit from PGD/SSS.
In 2005, Franklin and Roberts published an ethnographic account of PGD in the UK (for medical purposes only) and contrasted this with lurid warnings about designer babies. In the intervening years, PGD has moved into new terrain. More chapters are needed to document the vigorously animated 'social life' of PGD.