August 9, 2011
Fetal DNA Gender Testing in an Unbalanced World
This week's Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports a meta-analysis of prenatal testing methods for predicting gender, concluding that noninvasive (blood-based) DNA testing has progressed to the point where fetal DNA can be reliably detected, as early as 7 weeks, but most reliably at 20 weeks. Abstract. Certainly, prenatal testing that poses less risk to mother and fetus is generally welcome, but, in this case, such testing must be evaluated against the backdrop of global gender ratios of births. Improved methods of gender prediction inevitably lead to increased demand for gender selection of offspring, an issue that consistently shows general societal preferences for male over female offspring. The discussion of "missing women" that has entered global population debates notes that men may outnumber women due to higher mortality for women, undercare for girls, and prenatal selection. Thus, new technologies that make gender selection even more efficient and convenient will only exacerbate the problem. The World Health Organization and other international groups have called for the UN and national authorities to understand the public health dimensions of gender imbalance and work to limit the use of prenatal gender selection technologies.