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Sex Selection Raises Legal, Ethical Concerns

Couplet Signing Tablet

The newest member of the Kardashian family isn't even born yet, but it's already making headlines.

Tabloid magazines are reporting that Kim Kardashian, who recently announced her second pregnancy with husband Kanye West, underwent IVF treatments and had only male embryos implanted, ensuring they will have a son. The reality star's rep says the story isn't true.

Regardless of its veracity, the story may encourage other women undergoing fertility treatments to consider selecting the sex of their unborn baby.

There's no federal law against the practice, says William Keye, MD, an OB/GYN at University of Utah Health. "The ethical issue is a more lengthy discussion," he says. "There are arguments on both the pro and the con side of this."

In some cases, parents use sex selection to serve a medical need.

"It really began as a way of avoiding the transfer of embryos that would produce a child with a deadly disease," Keye says. Some genetic diseases are linked to gender, such as hemophilia, which primarily affects boys. Selecting only female embryos would mitigate that risk.

But for other parents, their motivations are more personal. Some parents may have a strong preference for one gender or they may have a bunch of boys and want a girl. This is when questions of ethics crop up, Keye says.

One concern is that sex selection would lead to an unbalanced population in which one gender far outnumbers the other. Keye says that concern has proved to be overblown, at least in our culture. Parents he's worked with have been fairly evenly split between a preference for boys or girls, he says.

"The other one people have brought up is: Are we now on a slippery slope to producing designer babies?" Keye says. "I've heard that argument now for 30 years."

There are just too many genetic and environmental variables, he says. "You can't create a designer baby."