Gender Selection: Not Just for the Kardashians Anymore

Gender selectionThe practice of using medical technology to choose gender is also known as gender selection. It may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it is becoming an increasingly popular option in most fertility clinics in the US.

There are a few reasons a couple might consider gender selection when conceiving. Maybe they’ve tried to have a girl but have only succeeded in having boys. Maybe they have a genetic abnormality that results in illness, such as hemophilia. Or perhaps they’re concerned about male dominated illnesses, such as autism.

I actually first heard about gender selection this past summer while I was at the park with my kids. At the time, I was listening in on a conversation some other moms were having one bench over from me.

“I just couldn’t image not having a girl! And I already have two boys…because I was doing IVF, they asked me what I would prefer and if I wanted to choose. It was a total no-brainer.” Another friend recently asked me if I had considered “spinning” my husband’s sperm, in an effort to balance out my family by adding a girl.

I knew the Kanye and Kim’s of the world could readily afford to choose what they were having, but middle class America?  My curiosity was piqued.  What were the different types of gender selection processes?

The Ericsson Method

One common way to gender select without using IVF is the Ericsson method. It was developed in the 1970’s and is also known as “spinning sperm.” In this process, a semen sample is placed into a test tube along with albumin, creating thick layers. The sperm are then spun around really fast. The theory is that female sperm (x) is heavier than male sperm (y). When the sample is spun, the x and y sperms separate with the y-bearing sperm at the top. The woman is then inseminated with either the sperm at the top or the sperm at the bottom, depending on their choice.

The Ericsson Method is supposedly around 73-83% effective but some studies suggest it is closer to 50%. The costs can run anywhere from $600-$1200 with implantation. Although it has been around for decades now, I came across many stories of women who had traveled to have the procedure, and it did with unsuccessful results. There are licensed Ericsson clinics in many US; however, it is not actively endorsed by fertility doctors. The only procedure that is endorsed is PGD.

PGD with In Vitro Fertilization

If you have a bit more cash, you can opt for PGD, or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which can select a baby’s gender with 99.9% certainty. PGD is not legal in most countries, but it is in the US, attracting woman from all over the world who have the means and the desire.

The process for PGD is more intense than the Ericsson method. It requires that women take fertility drugs first to stimulate the egg production. Then, the eggs are fertilized by the partners’ sperm at the fertility office. After, the embryos are left to grow and are then checked for chromosomal abnormalities and gender. Only embryos that pass the test are implanted. The extra embryos can then be frozen for future implantation.

The combined cost of PGD with IVF usually runs about $20,000 but some insurance companies will cover portions of the IVF cost. PGD is the only method that is recommended when trying to eliminate a gender because of family health concerns.

Doctors report and chart patient selections, and many say that they still remain around a 50/50 ratio of boy to girl requests. It seems like a slippery genetic slope; one that many fear is just getting us closer to choosing other traits like hair color and height. But for those who go through the experience, the intense desire far outweighs the ethics involved.

Tessa Wesnitzer is a health and wellness coach who lives in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves her husband, two boys, iced tea, long runs, and snowy winters.

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