Humans have tried for some time to determine the gender of their child while it is still in the womb. Craving sweets or a slower heart rate means you’ll be having a baby girl. Eating a lot of salty foods, having an especially active baby or carrying your baby low means it’s time to start painting the baby’s room blue1. Advances in science have moved us beyond these old wives’ tales and allowed us to exactly determine the gender of a child before it is born through the use of an ultrasound. A major decision for most people currently is if you want to know what gender your baby will be before it is born. While some are making that choice, others are choosing their child’s gender. I intend to address how this is possible, and if allowing such a choice is ethical.
A significant change in gender determination is in progress. Many people are worried about the possibilities that eugenics will bring, including the possibility of gender determination through DNA modification. What these people are overlooking is, gender selection is already in use, and DNA modification is not necessary. Three hundred babies have already had their gender predetermined in the United States through the use of a process called sperm sorting2.
Sperm sorting was initially developed as a means to regulate the gender of offspring in cattle. Sperm sorting is achieved through exploitation of the size difference between the X and Y chromosome. The X and Y chromosome are those that will determine the gender of an offspring. The egg of a female contains two X chromosomes, and each sperm from the male contains either an X or a Y. If the sperm that inseminates the egg contains a Y chromosome the egg will mature into a male, if the sperm that inseminates the egg contains an X, the egg will mature into a female. The X chromosome is approximately three times as large as the Y chromosome.
Early methods of sperm sorting took advantage of the weight difference that is a result of their size difference. A sample of sperm was collected in a test tube, and then spun in a centrifuge, which separates the sample by weight. The X sperm will be at the very bottom of the tube while the Y sperm will be closer to the top. The major problem with this method is the high rate of speed at which the centrifuge spins in order to separate the sperm causes many collisions.