Worldwide Couples Head to US to Spend Thousands on Designer Babies

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 15, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 15, 2006

Los Angles, CA ( — Couples from around the world are heading to the United States to create designer babies by using a process that gives them a 99 percent chance of choosing the sex of their unborn child. But critics say the decisions bring up bioethics concerns and could impact gender balance ratios that are already problematic.

The process, which costs upwards of $20,000, is offered at fertility clinics in the United States but prohibited in most countries around the world.

For couples like Melissa Vatkin and her husband, from Canada, the process is a huge help in determining the sex of their children and "balancing" her family.

"This treatment has allowed us to realize our dream," Vatkin told AFP. She recently gave birth to her fourth child, a pre-selected girl.

"We were desperate to have another girl and our daughter really wanted a sister," said Vatkin, who has one girl and two boys already. "It was important for us to balance our family."

Like other couples, Vatkin and her husband went to a US fertility clinic for a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD. The process involves removing eggs from the mother and injecting them with the father’s sperm in a petri dish.

Scientists remove one cell from each of the human embryos that develop to determine whether the baby will be a boy or girl. An embryo of the parents’ desired sex is then implanted.

They are one of 2,000 couples to seek the help of California-based fertility expert Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg. Three years ago he became a worldwide leader in commercial gender selection.

"Usually these couples have four of five children of one sex and desperately want one of the opposite sex, they want to balance their families in a way that works for them," Steinberg told AFP.

For over two years Vatkin and her family went to Los Angeles to visit Steinberg to work on her fertility issues and ensure the birth of a girl.

According to AFP, most of the couples that go to the clinic are from outside the United States and come from as far away as China, Japan, Germany and England.

"They come from everywhere that it’s banned by law," Steinberg said. "But in the United States we really guard and cherish reproductive choice and we are very reticent to allow the government to impinge on that."

However, pro-life advocates and bioethicists are concerned about the process.

Extra human embryos — days old unborn children — must be created to have a chance of finding a baby of the desired sex and it’s likely that the process will end up in killing the rest of the human embryos for most couples.

The process also prompts couples to ignore the adoption process in selecting a baby of their choosing.

But it’s potential to skew the already-imbalanced gender ratios in countries like China and India has many worried.

Stamford University bioethicist David Magnus told AFP, "In some places, the impact for sex ratios would be pretty dramatic if people had the complete power to chose the gender of their child."

"With new technology, there are fears that we may be heading towards a future where only the poor are fat or bald, that we are heading towards creating a genetic underclass and genetic overclass," Magnus added.