Baylor Medicine College to study controversial sex selection
Posted on Oct 31, 2005 | by Erin Curry
HOUSTON (BP)--Baylor College of Medicine, which was tied to the Baptist-affiliated Baylor University until 1969, has been given approval to proceed with a controversial study for parents to choose a male or female embryo for implantation depending on their desire for a son or daughter.
“The purpose of the study is to learn more about how couples interested in preimplantation genetic diagnosis for family balancing make their decision so that we can better understand their beliefs about gender, cultural traditions, family values and other factors that they identify as important in their decision-making process,” according to a fact statement released to Baptist Press by the college’s public affairs office Oct. 28.
Sex selection is banned in many countries, including Britain and Canada, and it’s opposed by major medical organizations within the United States. A recent survey by the University of Illinois at Chicago found that 59 percent of women would not use sex selection even if it were free, according to ABC News. “Children are not do-it-yourself projects. They are gifts to be received. They are to be loved for who they are, not because they conform to a couple's gender wishes,” bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell told Baptist Press. “Baylor is playing to crass consumerism. This is an experiment in social engineering and ought to be stopped immediately.”
A total of 25 married couples with at least one child together who want a child of a sex they do not have yet can take part in the study, according to the guidelines. Couples are instructed to contact the study office and answer simple questions before making a trip to the Baylor Clinic to undergo the usual screening for in vitro fertilization and receive counseling about the risks involved.
The couple will then complete an extensive questionnaire addressing various aspects of their lives, decision-making and beliefs before participating in a 30-minute interview with an ethicist probing their views about gender, their cultural beliefs and their values.
Information provided by the couple will then be analyzed in order to determine what kinds of judgments influenced the decision-making process, the college of medicine said. Once they have completed the questionnaire and interview, the couple is released of responsibility in the study and will be able to choose whether to proceed with preimplantation genetic diagnosis.
The practice of preimplantation genetic diagnosis involves fertilizing eggs in a laboratory and then removing one cell once the eight-cell stage is reached. DNA from the cell is analyzed, and technicians can determine whether the embryo carries a genetic defect -- a procedure that is commonly used in the United States. But experts can also, from this same procedure, determine the sex of the embryo. Baylor College of Medicine’s new study will involve allowing the parents to implant in the uterus an embryo with the desired gender.
“What about the unborn embryonic children who will be killed because they do not fit the gender profile their parents want? This is monstrous!” said Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago and a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Using children as test subjects in this way is clearly unethical. Children may only be used in clinical research when they have something to gain from the research. But these children have nothing to gain by having their gender chosen. And any harm done to these children cannot be undone,” Mitchell said.
Barry Creamer, associate professor of humanities at Criswell College in Dallas, compared the practice of sex selection that Baylor College of Medicine is proposing to the selective mentality that drove the Nazis to kill anyone who did not have blond hair and blue eyes.
“Despite the extreme reaction the term ‘eugenics’ provokes, no one should read about this study and not think of it,” Creamer said in a statement to Baptist Press. “‘Eugenics’ deserves the horrible legacy which associates it with the holocaust, and this study ought to be associated with that legacy.”
Creamer noted two significant problems with the study. The first is the idea of conducting sex selection of any kind.
“That people have preferences about the attributes of their children is no surprise. People value different things for many reasons. Some people want a boy. Some people want a girl. Some people hope their child will have red hair, others not,” he said. “That we value certain attributes, and do so with variety, is a normal part of human history.”
But taking those natural desires to the next level by manipulating reproductive materials converts desire into selfishness and worse, he said.
“When a person actually selects whether a boy or a girl embryo is going to be implanted and matured, they are changing what was originally nothing more than a personal preference into a measure of the personal worth of another human being,” Creamer said. “‘I want a boy’ should never be translated to ‘I will allow this embryo to be born because it will be a boy, but I will reject that embryo because it will be a girl.’
“The act itself is shocking. The implications are nothing short of morally catastrophic,” he added. “Every kind of eugenics -- including for blond hair and blue eyes -- is as defensible as sex selection.”
The other problem, Creamer said, is the idea of conducting the study at all.
“Why would they use questionnaires to determine motivations for sex selection? Because they believe that some eugenics is justifiable. But it is not,” he said, adding that “even denying the opportunity to be born to an embryo because it has some medical problem is saying that persons who have that medical condition have less valuable lives than persons without that medical condition.
“Eugenics has always been a bad idea and a worse practice, and it always will be. To study it is to subject the viable human embryos in the study to the devaluing process of eugenics, which the last hundred years of world history should have taught us is completely unacceptable.”
Creamer said the study is a violation of the worth of the embryos involved in it and creates an environment in which the people participating in the study will be rejecting their own offspring because they are not a certain gender.
“It is inherently wrong and perniciously dangerous,” he said. “It took nine years to get permission to do this study because anyone thinking ethically about it knows it will put our culture on an incredibly steep slippery slope.”
Baylor College of Medicine was founded in 1900 as the University of Dallas Medical Department, though no such university existed. In 1903, it formed an alliance with Baylor University, which is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and changed its name to the Baylor University College of Medicine. And in 1969, by mutual agreement, the college of medicine separated from Baylor University to become an independent institution.