Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

An article in yesterday's Science section of the NY Times discussed the ethical dilemmas facing fertility doctors asked by couples to select the sex of their embryos. The process of in vitro fertilization allows the doctor -- who harvests eggs from the woman's ovaries -- to select which embryos to implant after fertilization on the basis of their chromosomes. The most common use of this chromosomal selection process is to weed out embryos that contain chromosomal anomalies. Like abortion after an amnio, this selection process is controversial in its own right, as I discussed in a FindLaw column. But utilizing in vitro fertilization just to choose the sex of one's child when one could reproduce the conventional way seems a bit frivolous. Though less invasive than it used to be, in vitro fertilization generally involves injecting women with hormones to induce hyper-ovulation, followed by surgery, fertilization and attempted implantation after a few days. Such interventions make sense for people having a difficult time achieving a pregnancy or a live birth without them. But the notion that women in the U.S. should be subjected to hormone treatments and surgery (while men "undergo" masturbation into a cup) to enable couples to exercise consumer choice in reproduction risks unduly commodifying babies (not to mention the bodies of their mothers). It is uncomfortably suggestive of cosmetic surgery. Parenthood is often fun and gratifying, but ideally it also entails the suppression of some of one's own needs in favor of those of a dependent baby/child/adolescent/live-in 35-year-old. The more that embarking on parenthood comes to resemble the purchase of a sports car, however, the less equipped people may be for the reality of being parents.