Families can have various cultural, medical or personal reasons to want to conceive a child of a specific gender. Couples have about even odds of having either a male or female child. Most industrialised countries will have about 105 boys for every 100 girls born.
However, even with these odds, it is not uncommon for couples to find themselves having all or most of their children being of a single-gender. Rather than leave the outcome to fate, couples can now use medical interventions to better guarantee what gender of the child they become pregnant with using in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Being able to determine the gender of a child during this process is referred to as gender or family balancing. The goal of this process is to allow families to have representation of both male and female genders in their children.
How IVF facilitates family balancing
During IVF treatment, there comes a stage where the retrieved eggs and sperm are combined to allow for fertilisation. Embryos are formed in a lab setting and are screened before being transferred back into the uterus. The screening process is referred to as preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) and involves the extraction of just a few cells that does not harm the embryo.
The procedure is performed primarily to ensure that there are no abnormalities in the chromosomes. This enables the selection of the healthiest embryos for implantation that will thus lead to healthy babies. Besides looking for chromosomal abnormalities, genetic testing can also confirm the gender of the embryos. The couple can then opt to have just the embryos of a specific gender transferred into the woman’s uterus, sealing the outcome of the pregnancy. The remaining embryos can be frozen for later use, or disposed of.
Is it legal in India?
India permits the use of IVF treatments for couples challenged by infertility. Genetic testing of embryos during this treatment is also permitted to avoid complications of conceiving a child with genetic abnormalities. It is however illegal to carry out genetic testing for purposes of determining the gender of the embryos (gender selection).
This process is considered akin to gender selection which is strictly prohibited. It is a crime under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act to determine the gender of an unborn child. This law was enacted to help curb the problem of sex-selective abortions that have resulted in many parents terminating female foetuses. Indian society has a cultural preference for male children, especially firstborns. Those that contravene this law may suffer severe penalties applicable both to the parents and the medical personnel and companies involved, unless they were compelled to do so.
For Indian couples that are determined to ensure family balancing, it is possible to achieve sex selection by undergoing IVF treatment elsewhere. Some countries, like Thailand, are popular destinations for medical tourism. IVF treatments are amongst the many specialities offered, with genetic testing for gender identification being permitted. This means that an Indian couple looking to conceive a child of a specific gender may travel here to achieve this goal.
Why family balancing is done
As said, there are various cultural, medical, and personal reasons to want a child of a specific gender. Indian culture is heavily biased in favour of male children. More so when it relates to family wealth. Male children can more easily inherit wealth and keep it within the family. Whereas when female children get married they move to their spouse’s family with a dowry that diminishes their original family’s wealth.
Genetic abnormalities are another reason to want to pursue the genetic testing that comes with family balancing. Certain genetic abnormalities can be passed down through specific genders. Even where both genders may be affected, one may be a carrier while the other is worse afflicted. Being able to test for these abnormalities and ensure they are not passed on to the next generation may mean having to choose one gender over the other.
Family balancing for personal reasons is often tied to a desire by the parents to have representation of both genders in their children. This means the couple probably already have a child or children of a specific gender and want the other. Sex selection during IVF helps guarantee the desired outcome without having to leave it to chance.
Pros and cons of family balancing
The biggest benefit of family balancing is that it gives the parents better control over the design of their family. When families require a child of a specific gender, it is not best to have to keep trying and ending up with opposite results. In some cases, it can lead to larger than normal family sizes just in an attempt to conceive a child of a specific gender. This can lead to physical, mental and financial strains. With family balancing, the couple can have the family they want through a straightforward IVF treatment that includes sex selection before the implantation stage.
When couples can better ensure the gender outcome of their children, there is a stronger likelihood they will have fewer children. This means the better allocation of resources in raising these children in terms of parental attention and finances. Those that are pushed to have more children to achieve the desired gender may sometimes be financially strained to the point they cannot afford good education or nutrition for all their children.
For parents who are likely to have children with certain genetic disorders, sex selection can be a good way to avoid passing on the problem to future generations. Some disorders can badly affect quality of life and be a heavy financial burden to manage. Opting away from the affected gender through sex selection can often be the best solution.
IVF treatments are a scientific process whose outcomes can often be accurately predicted. There are timelines adhered to that can help couples to better plan for when to have their child and know how much time they have to prepare for the baby’s arrival. The intent behind the process, planning, and preparation often mean that the parents are more devoted to their child and will make every effort to care for and raise them successfully.
On the downside, the sex selection done during family balancing can have moral and ethical concerns. The scientific intervention may also be seen as going against nature. Another challenge lies in the cost of IVF treatments. It is a treatment that is out of reach for most families due to the high cost. And, though there can be certainity of the gender of the embryos that will be transferred to the uterus, there is no assurance the woman will successfully conceive or carry the foetus to term.