Boy or girl? A simple test raises ethical concerns

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Recent research found that increasing numbers of women in India who already have daughters are having abortions when prenatal tests show another girl, suggesting that an Indian ban on such gender testing has been ineffective. The expense of marrying off girls has contributed to a cultural preference there for boys.

Evidence also suggests that China’s limits on one child per couple and traditional preference for male heirs has contributed to abortions and an increasingly large gender imbalance.

There’s very little data on reasons for U.S. abortions or whether gender preferences or gender-detection methods play a role, said Susannah Baruch, a policy consultant for the Generations Ahead, an advocacy group that studies genetic techniques and gender issues.

Consumer Genetics Inc. a Santa Clara, Calif.-based company sells an “early gender” blood test called “Pink or Blue” online for $25 plus $265 or more for laboratory testing. It boasts of 95 percent accuracy, using a lab technique its scientists developed from the type of testing evaluated in the new analysis, said Terry Carmichael, the company’s executive vice president.

Carmichael said the company sells more than 1,000 kits a year. He said the company won’t test blood samples unless women sign a consent form agreeing not to use the results for gender selection.

The company also won’t sell kits to customers in China or India because of fears of gender selection, he said.

Medical techniques that can detect gender include amniocentesis, usually done at around 16 weeks, using a needle to withdraw fluid surrounding the fetus to identify abnormalities; chorionic villus sampling, done at around the 10th week to detect abnormalities by examining placenta tissue; and ultrasound, most accurate at around 13 weeks. The first two methods can slightly increase risks for miscarriages.

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Online:

JAMA: http://www.jama.ama-assn.org

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AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/LindseyTanner

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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