A company in the United States has begun marketing a kit which allows women to discover the sex of their baby as early as five weeks into the pregnancy. Currently, expectant mothers can get a good idea of their baby's sex with a routine ultrasound at around 16 weeks, but the results are not always guaranteed.
To use the Baby Gender Mentor Home DNA Gender Testing Kit, a woman takes a small finger prick blood sample and sends it off to a lab in Lowell, Massachusetts for testing. The lab detects and analyses fetal DNA floating in the mother's blood and checks for the presence of Y chromosomes, which only males have. If Y chromosome DNA is found, then the baby is a boy, if not, then it is a girl. Customers get their results within two or three days. The $275 test is supposed to be 99.9 per cent accurate, and comes with a double money back guarantee.
Fetal DNA analysis has been around since the late 1990s when researchers first discovered that in a pregnant woman's blood some 'cell-free' DNA comes from the fetus. The technique could eventually be used for prenatal diagnosis of genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome.
Mommy's Thinkin', the company marketing the test through the website pregnancystore.com, claims that 50-70 per cent of parents-to-be want to know the sex of their children in advance, mainly so they know what colour to paint the nursery and can decide on names. The test is aimed at 'women who can't wait to open their Christmas presents', according to the company's website. Ethicists, however, worry that the test could be used for sex selection, to terminate unwanted pregnancies based on gender.
'You can tiptoe around it, but the fact is that if you're sending information about sex, then you're in the sex selection business,' bioethicist Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania told the Boston Globe. He would not ban the test, but he does condemn it.
Sex selection is a growing and potentially destabilising problem in some Asian societies where male children are preferred. In China, this has led to an imbalance of 120 men for every 100 women. And in one affluent area of New Dehli, a recent report found that for every 1000 boys born, only 762 girls were born.
In the US, sex selection is discouraged, with the exception of couples whose children may inherit sex-linked disorders. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is concerned that sex selection 'may ultimately support sexist practices.'