Friday, July 18, 2003

Gender selection technology … or infanticide

Disturbing news from India today: Infant girls in India twice as likely to die as boys. The authors of this study ask the extremely rhetorical question, "Could such deaths be an extension into the early neonatal period of female feticide?"

The authors say that while the country's Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994 attempted to alter the adverse sex ratio by banning sex determination tests, "this cannot change the attitudes of people towards female infants."

To me, it sounds like another case of a government using the force of law to ban a piece of technology – merely a tool – rather than doing the harder work of using its influence to change long-held cultural beliefs that male children are more desirable. The law against sex-determination tests merely postponed the abortion of unwanted children until after their births – not a desirable outcome no matter what your position on abortion.

What does this have to do with nanotech? Well, right now, gender-sorting technology falls under the category of microfluidics, and is already being used to choose the genders of livestock, and even humans, along with tackling the problems of male infertility. Further advances in nanofluidics and use of quantum dots as flourescent markers are sure to make the process more reliable.

So, do we ban gender-determination technology, without addressing cultural attitudes, and face an infanticide problem? Or save needless deaths through technology that prevents unwanted conception in the first place?


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