A new study carried out at the University of Illinois in Chicago shows that most people would not choose the sex of their baby, if given the option. The findings, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, are based on an online survey of 1,197 men and women aged between 18 and 45. Just eight per cent of the participants said they would opt for sex selection using currently available 'sperm sorting' technology, a figure that rose to 18 per cent if it were possible to determine gender simply by taking a pill. Study leader Tarun Jain said the results should 'ease the fears' of those who believe sex selection will become widespread when it is readily available in the US. Sex selection for non-medical reasons is controversial in the US and elsewhere. Both the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose its use. However, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has said that it supports sex selection for family balancing reasons, provided the methods used are proved to be safe and effective. In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) ruled in 2003 that parents should not be allowed to choose the sex of their babies.
The sperm sorting technique, developed in 2001, exploits the fact that the chromosome that determines a baby's sex comes from the sperm. Whether a sperm carries an X (female) or Y (male) chromosome affects the amount of DNA it contains, so 'male' and 'female' sperm can be separated on this basis. Microsort, the company that markets the technology, claims that its success rate is 91 per cent for girls, and 76 per cent for baby boys. Patients are required to undergo between three to five cycles of intrauterine insemination, at an average cost of $2,500 (about £1440) per attempt. Only eight per cent of survey respondents said they would opt to use the technique - a figure that rose to 12 per cent if it could be done in only one treatment cycle, and if it were covered by health insurance.
Overall, 77 per cent of respondents who wanted more than one child either said they preferred an equal number of boys and girls, or they had no preference as to the sex of their children. Dr Jain said the findings suggested that 'people still want to leave things up to chance and not rely on science for everything'. The results are in contrast to an earlier study by the group, in which a survey of 561 American women undergoing treatment for infertility showed that 41 per cent would choose the sex of their baby, if sex selection was offered at no additional cost. Jain said the different findings of the two studies were significant, but not surprising. He pointed out that infertile couples may feel they have only one chance to have a child, while the general population assumes the opportunity for more children.