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Understanding Natural Selection - Networks Consolidate The Core Concepts of Evolution

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In a world where it is not only possible to screen for the gender of a child but also to effectively select the gender of said child, many issues are being raised concerning both the moral implications and societal risks that come with this ability. There are concerns that range in quite a variety of topics; this essay will be focusing on some of the arguments that appear to not hold up in their goal of attempting to make the argument that gender selection should be impermissible and banned. The overarching thesis of this paper is to show that the major arguments that go against the idea of sex selection appear to lack in validity, and that overall there are no immediate reasons that draw a definite conclusion on the topic in terms of it being morally, ethically and socially impermissible. This paper will be structured in the following manner. First, a discussion of the technologies that are now available in the field of gender selection will be presented, along with the basic arguments that are in place which support its use. Second, there will be a look into how many societal risks are presented as reasons why there should be banning or regulation of the practice of sex selection, and the corresponding arguments that deflate these risks. The essay will conclude with a discussion on the argument that sex selection contributes to sexism and the further development of an uneven and unequal society based on gender, and again why these risks are unfounded and do not support the idea of sex selection being impermissible. The author’s that have been researched for this paper are John Robertson, David McCarthy, and Bonnie Steinbock; all present compelling reasons supporting the argument of the essay, which again is that there are no immediate reasons to ban the practice of sex selection. Reproductive freedom appears to be a trump card that can be played in many instances, and is a strong supporter for the idea of sex selection being permissible. In contrast, there must be definitive arguments that can prove the harm that will be done by an action in order to ban it from society; the burden of proof is much harder to deliver, and this paper finds that arguments that attempt to use harm to society or to gender equality do not manage to achieve this feat.

This section will look at various technologies involved with sex selection, and the main argument made that supports their use. One of the most primitive forms of sex selection would be the use of an abortion, or termination of the fetus, which is described in Steinbock’s work as morally objectionable but still a valid practice that is used in many parts of the world, and does essentially work. Another method that is gaining in popularity is described as flow cytometry; in other words, the sorting of the sperm into x and y. Robertson describes this technique which has been patented by the United States Department of Agriculture, which effectively separates the heavier x bearing sperm from y in a given sample using laser technology. Robertson sees this as a much more attractive option for selecting gender, and the USDA has licensed the Genetics and IVF Institute in Fairfax Virginia to study the safety and efficacy of the technique for family balancing reasons, one of the arguments supporting sex selection.

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The institute claimed a 92 percent success rate for the trials conducted, and as such Robertson wants to tease out and unfold the various controversies and elements that are tied to having a relatively cheap and accessible technology for selecting gender. The success rate is pointing to the method working safely and efficiently, while the actual results of what the technique does are slightly different. In McCarthy’s article the information is presented that the technique in question increases the chances and ability of a couple trying to rear a girl (if that is the sex they are trying to get) from about 50% to 85%, but for males it is a little different; flow cytometry increases the chances of their getting a boy if that is the sex they are trying to get from about 50% to 65%. As it is seen, this method is not perfect and while the trials have shown that it is a safe and viable method for increasing chances to have a desired sex of a child come to fruition, it does not mean that there is a 100 percent chance of it working. A final technology that will be discussed is the idea of In Vitro Fertilization and Pre Implementation Genetic Diagnosis. This idea sees positive and negative selection being in full use; effectively before embryos are placed into the womb of the respective mother, genetic diagnosis is performed to see what traits each embryo would yield. This can be used to look at the sex of the child, what physical traits it will have such as eye colour or hair colour, and can be implemented to determine whether the child will have any life altering defects or disabilities. The important aspect for this paper is the selection of gender based off knowledge of what each embryo will grow up to be, and how that knowledge allows for parents who have a preference towards a specific gender to negatively select the embryos that will not have male or female traits.

A drawback to this technology is that it is not cost effective to have sometimes 4 or more embryos conceived and grown in preparation of IVF, and there is the risk that all of the embryos will have undesirable traits that the parents will not want. Now that the technologies have been discussed and the idea of sex selection is firmly a reality and possibility for parents to undergo, a brief discussion of why sex selection should be valid will be presented; this paper finds it is more useful to seek out the flaws in the arguments that do not support sex selection. Robertson contends that the strongest argument for sex selection is as follows: “It serves the needs of couples who have strong preferences about the gender of their offspring and would not reproduce unless they could realize those preferences. Because of the importance of reproduction in an individual’s life, the freedom to make reproductive decisions has long been recognized as a fundamental moral and legal right that should not be denied to a person unless exercise of that right would cause significant harm to others.” Going hand in hand with this idea and new technologies, Robertson further outlines how prospective parents should have the right to access preconception or prenatal information about the genetic traits of offspring, due to the fact that they may decide in a particular case whether or not to reproduce, which is something that is necessary for the human race. An example of sex selection already present in society would be the idea of selecting a baby for adoption; is it not true that gender is something that is considered by these soon to be parents? This section has sketched prospective technologies that allow for sex selection and an argument supporting its right; the next sections focus on combating the arguments that do not support its use.

One of the arguments that is made in an effort to mitigate and eventually eradicate the idea of sex selection is the societal risks proposed by widespread use of PGD or flow cytometry. These risks include sex ratio imbalances, the inequality of the use of sex selection, and the slippery slope argument, all of which are discussed in McCarthy’s paper. The first risk raised is very murky water to tread in; the arguments that support the idea of sex selection being intrinsically bad for the sex ratio of society can be deconstructed and razed quite easily. This statement exemplifies the confusion behind this argument: Some argue that it would be beneficial to have fewer women as it would make them rarer and as such more valued. Some argue that it would be worse off for men as there would be more competition in finding mates, while people disagree with this as it could mean that the men would have never been born in the first place. Further more there are several more compelling claims that throw imbalances to the sex ratio in a society out the window. There are people in society that simply don’t care about the gender of their children, and many who would not want to precede with such an action, as it would be arguably costly and invasive.

Also, the most dominant reasons for seeking sex selection in a democratic society seems to be the idea of family balancing, this also goes against the argument that sex selection will disrupt the sex ratio. How do we even know what the optimal sex ratio is; currently it is 52 percent female so how can we argue that this is the perfect ratio in the first place? We cannot simply ban sex selection based on the sex ratio, because we don’t understand it enough. Another risk that is posed towards society is the idea that there will be resources levied against the general population due to sex selection becoming a government funded operation, which follows that taxpayer money would be used to fund the operation. This risk again can be dismantled with ease. It is hard to make the claim that sex selection would be considered a public health care need that should be funded by the government, and there exists the idea of making it a privately funded operation. While this does raise issues of fairness and equality concerning financials and economic status, there are already many similar practices in use, such as forms of cosmetic surgery that have nothing to do with health and the right to have access to a medical specialist of ones choice; the state will not force a doctor upon you if you have the funds to seek out a specific person as a physician. As such, resource allocation and use do not seem to be a legitimate argument to ban sex selection across the board. The final societal risk that will be discussed in this paper is an idea that has been coined the slippery slope argument by various authors in the bio ethics community. This argument states that allowance of this technology or any bio technology will mean that other, more unethical experiments and technologies that seek genetic enhancement will become more permissible, such as selecting a child that will have superior genes physically and mentally, or choosing to make a child have specific genetic traits that some people find aesthetically pleasing.

Some arguments associated with this are not just that new technologies will be explored; “a non enhanced child will be disadvantaged in competing against enhanced children, parents may feel uncomfortable at the prospect of their children asking why they were not enhanced, and there may be significant social pressure on the parents towards making certain sorts of enhancement choices.” These arguments will be dismantled first, followed by an example that will be used to show how the slippery slope argument is inherently weak. McCarthy argues that the claims that there will be more than just technologies explored through allowance of one technology do not take into consideration the type of technology being discussed; selecting sex is not an enhancing ability, children will not be able to complain about being made a certain sex as if it were the other case they would not have existed in the first place, and finally (at least in democratic societies) there is no evidence of societal pressure to pick and choose between the sexes, at least in the opinion of this essay (both are equally valued in different ways). The idea that if we allow for sex selection to be permissible it will in turn lead to genetic enhancement on the whole to be more permissible is weak in its arguments. McCarthy uses the example of allowing freedom of expression. It is standard and accepted that freedom of speech and expression should be protected even when it advocates for objectionable things to be said (racist speech, sexist speech, might be looked down upon but will not be legally held accountable). The argument is that freedom of speech allows these objectionable things can be said, but that does not by itself provide reason to say that we should not have freedom of speech. This can be transmitted to the ideas of reproductive liberty. Just because of this idea that sex selection is considered by some to be genetic enhancement and is allowed through reproductive freedom does not translate into the idea that reproductive freedom has led to sex selection, making the slippery slope argument weak. The discussion will now turn to the argument of sexism through sex selection, as societal risks clearly do not make sex selection impermissible.

Various proponents who seek to dismantle the validity of the technology reference the argument that sexism falls into the idea of permitting sex selection. To break this argument down, it is useful to examine what the definition of sexism entails, at least from Robertson’s point of view: “the assumption that one sex is superior to the other and the resultant discrimination practiced against members of the supposed inferior sex, especially by men against women.” This view does allow for some wiggle room however; if an action is not motivated by the specific ideals that one gender is superior to another, than it can be assumed that it is not something that is inherently sexist. Simply choosing a gender for the sake of choosing that gender does not mean that it results in an action that is sexist. While some have argued that simply paying attention to wanting a gender over another is sexist, this essay finds that there are many holes to be poked in said argument. Two aspects of the difference in childrearing will be discussed. In Steinbock’s paper, the reader learns that from experience there are differences in rearing either a male or female child, and that there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a particular experience in the raising of ones child (though one must be careful in not assuming that picking a particular gender will directly result in that experience; parents should be warned and educated in this aspect of the technology, and sexual orientation or manipulation of sexual preferences is not something that is considered in this argument).

Steinbock uses the example of a child having culturally infused preferences towards what the parent considers stimulating or highly valued interests, such as a parent wanting to have a child that will want to play football or dance or be interested in dolls or have interest in raising pets. If a parent wants to have a specific child rearing experience through the selection of gender, this should not be considered an inherently sexist act, and while obviously there are exceptions to this argument Steinbock shows that a boy or girl might have cultural (or biological perhaps) preferences to certain activities that make the experience of raising different genders an arguable claim. Another element related to difference in gender is the idea proposed by Robertson of the long held view that there are differences in the mannerisms of the two genders, and a parent may seek to have either experience based on preference of how well they deal with these specific traits. These differences can be seen in a variety of areas, such as aggression, activity, toy preference, psychopathology, and spatial ability. Each parent has their own parenting preferences, and reproductive freedom should allow for them to make choices in this matter. Going back to the argument of the parents selecting a child for adoption, a parent will not simply pick a boy because it is the desired end state of their adoption; instead, they might look to the traits and characteristics of the children that are available, and make a decision based on elements that are arguably cultural and socially infused aspects of gender. Furthermore, if a parent seeks to have a firstborn child that would be female, does this not empower the female gender, which has historically been crushed through patriarchal societies? This is one of the instances where sex selection might help to fully realize the potential to have male and female genders be put on a level playing field through the ability of sex selection; Robertson suggests a regulation that all first born children would be engineered female to degrade the notion of sexism, but this essay rules that the notion itself would be sexist and as such untenable. Looking at specific notions again pokes holes in the argument that sex selection is sexist.

Consider the idea of family balancing; would it be sexist for a family that has produced all male offspring to want to have a female child, or vice versa? Not in the opinion of this essay, as seeking gender variety has been a long known practice in democratic liberal societies. To conclude on this argument, this essay agrees with Robertson in the following statement: using gender selection as a tool that can allow for offspring gender variety and even firstborn gender preference (and variety of child rearing preferences), may not be inherently sexist or disadvantaging of women or of the idea of gender as a whole.

This essay has gone to lengths to show that the arguments that support across the board restriction on sex selection have flaws that allow for the technologies presented at the beginning of the paper to be in the very least considerable. Ideas that surround societal risks due to an imbalanced sex ratio or a “slippery slope” argument that attempts to show that the end game of the technology is inherently flawed do not hold up, and neither does the idea that sexism is something that will unavoidably come from using sex selection. Instead this essay, drawing on support from the authors discussed in the paper, comes to the conclusion that there is no definitive reason for making sex selection impermissible; the ideas of reproductive freedom and liberal autonomy are arguably much stronger, and as such this essay finds that it is not within the rights of humanity to simple disallow for sex selection based on the arguments presented for across the board limitation of its use and development.


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