Fri. September 14
Money Can Buy You a Baby Girl. But What About Happiness?
Is this another sign that the “The End of Men” is near? Selecting the sex of your baby has become a multimillion dollar industry in this country, according to a fascinating article in Slate. It generates about $100 million in revenue each year. The kicker is that many parents in this country are, contra trends in India and China, selecting for girls:
Desperate for a baby girl, Simpson and her husband drove four hours to a fertility clinic in Michigan. Gender selection is illegal in Canada, which is why the couple turned to the United States. They paid $800 for a procedure that sorts sperm based on the assumption that sperm carrying a Y chromosome swim faster in a protein solution than sperm with an X chromosome do.
Simpson was inseminated with the slower sperm that same day. Fifteen weeks later, she asked a colleague at the hospital to sneak in an after-hours ultrasound. The results felt like a brick landing on her stomach: another boy.
“I lay in bed and cried for weeks,” said Simpson, now 36, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy. She took a job in the operating room so she would no longer have to work with women who were giving birth to girls.
Simpson and her husband talked about getting an abortion, but she decided to continue with the pregnancy. In the meantime, she looked for a way to absolutely guarantee that her next child would be the daughter she had always dreamed about. She discovered an online community of women just like her, confiding deep-seated feelings of depression over giving birth to boys. The Web forums mentioned a technique offered in the United States that would guarantee her next baby would be a girl. It would cost tens of thousands of dollars, money Simpson and her husband did not have. Simpson waited until her third son was born. Then she began to make some phone calls.
This article is full of interesting moral questions. Here’s one critic, for instance:
“It’s high-tech eugenics,” said Marcy Darnovsky, director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a Berkeley, Calif. nonprofit focused on reproductive technologies. “If you’re going through the trouble and expense to select a child of a certain sex, you’re encouraging gender stereotypes that are damaging to women and girls. …What if you get a girl who wants to play basketball? You can’t send her back.”
I can’t quite wrap my head around the consuming passion of wanting to have a baby girl as opposed to a baby boy, but given that our medical technologies give us the choice, is it a choice that we should make?
We know about the consequences of China’s “unnatural selection.” What will be the consequences of our own? Is this Western version of sex selection at all similar to the sex selection that goes on in places like China? In China and India, parents screen their fetuses so that they can abort them if they are girls. Simpson, upon finding out that she was pregnant with a son, contemplated getting an abortion.
I’m not interested in debating pro-life versus pro-choice issues here, but I do think that this article reveals an interesting fact about a culture like ours that is saturated with choices: That when we have the ability to choose nearly anything we want, we will never be satisfied until we have exactly what we think we want. Along these lines, I recommend psychologist Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less: How the Culture of Abundance Robs us of Satisfaction. The theme of the book is that sometimes, it’s better to not have the choices than to have them.
I wonder if that wisdom would apply to Simpson’s situation.
There’s another problem with being so choosey. It can degrade the things we value. For instance, the title of the Slate article is “How to Buy a Girl.” To that end, the part of the article that disturbed me the most was a quote from Simpson, who eventually did end up having a girl with the help of her fertility doctors. Here is what she said about her daughter: “My husband and I stared at our daughter for that first year. She was worth every cent. Better than a new car, or a kitchen reno.”