On 14th April 2016, tabloids and Twitter feeds were full of the news that American singer John Legend and his wife, Chrissy Teigen, has welcomed a little girl into the world, Luna Stephens. Teigen and Legend were always open about their fertility struggles and the fact that they had opted for IVF. However, a few months before their daughter was born, Teigen made a flippant comment in an interview that she was “not only having a girl, but [she] picked the girl from her little embryo”. Although sex selection is generally accepted by the public for medical reasons, for example choosing a girl because a boy would inherit a Y chromosome disorder from the father, choosing the sex for social reasons seems to a big no-no.
As expected, there was a huge backlash regarding this revelation. Many were claiming that the couple were sexist for giving a preference in gender; however, Teigen later stated that she had frozen all other embryos, including males, to use in the future – none were destroyed. She also tried to clarify why they chose a girl over a boy. The reasoning was that Legend would be “the best father to a daughter”, because of the special bond that only forms between fathers and daughters. Now, I may be wrong, but I’m not entirely sure that the gender affects the child/parent bond but anyway… Teigen does go on to say that they will use a boy embryo in the future, so they aren’t sexist for picking a girl first.
Unsurprisingly, the media attention led to a worldwide debate on the ethics of social sex selection. In addition to the issues raised about most reproductive technologies, such as the safety of the embryo or the age-old argument of ‘playing God’, there are some more hidden problems that are not so often considered by the general public. One big problem with sex selection is gender bias leading to populations skewed towards one sex. Whilst in the Western world this may not be a huge concern, in some cultures where it is of importance that families have a male ‘heir’, with sex selection females could be hugely outnumbered. Another issue is that if sex selection is being used by people who do not really need IVF anyway, it will direct time/money/resources/research etc. all away from medically-necessary IVF. Whilst at the end of the day, fertility treatments are a profitable business which clinics will exploit, it would be ethically wrong to deprive the needy for those who would simple prefer one gender.
However, Arthur Caplan, head of NYU Langone Medical Center’s division of medical ethics, does make a very valid point for sex selection. Ultimately, Teigen and Legend were having IVF, an unnatural interference with the process of conception anyway, so is there really an arbitrary distinction between this manipulation of life and sex selection? Caplan argues that despite the fact “gender is not a disease” so sex selection “indulges a taste or preference”, if you are at the stage of having IVF anyway due to fertility issues, there isn’t much of a problem of picking which embryo is implanted as you’re already at the interference stage. He feels that the moral line lies at those who do not need IVF for medical reasons, but choose IVF as to pick the sex of their child. I feel that my stance is the same as Caplan – social sex selection, whilst controversial, should be allowed within reason so long as it is not abused, and not sold as an individual fertility treatment.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3462151/Pregnant-Chrissy-Teigen-reveals-involved-selecting-child.html (Chrissy Teigan defending her choice)
http://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/26/health/parents-choose-sex-of-baby-ivf-ethics/index.html (Interesting discussion of sex selection by CNN)
Main image obtained from Hollywood Life.