Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dim sum and curries? Yes, please. Female fetus abortion? No, thanks.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal released a signed editorial (Jan. 16, 2012) entitled “‘Its’ a girl” – could be a death sentence.”  The editor opens the discussion of a proposal to limit access to fetal information by noting that  “When Asians migrated to Western countries they brought welcome recipes for curries and dim sum.”  So, far so good.  The editor goes on to say, however, that “Sadly, a few of them also imported their preference for having sons and aborting daughters.”  The editor says next that “Female feticide happens in India and China by the millions, but it also happens in North America in numbers large enough to distort the male to female ratio in some ethnic groups.”

He then engages this question:  “Should female feticide in Canada be ignored because it is a small problem localized to minority ethnic groups?  No.  Small numbers cannot be ignored when the issue is about discrimination against women in its most extreme form.  This evil devalues women.  How can it be curbed? The solution is to postpone the disclosure of medically irrelevant information.”  (At:

The analysis goes further to say that abortion decisions made to avoid female children represent discrimination against women “in its most extreme form,” no matter the numbers involved.  A policy – the editorial says – of disclosing the sex of a fetus only after 30 weeks policy would require the understanding and willingness of women of all ethnicities to make a temporary compromise.  Postponing the transmission of such information is a small price to pay to save thousands of girls in Canada.”

The Canadian Assisted Human Reproduction Act (2004) is of a piece with this editorial, insofar as it prohibits clinicians “to perform any procedure or provide, prescribe or administer anything that would ensure or increase the probability that an embryo will be of a particular sex, or that would identify the sex of an in vitro embryo, except to prevent, diagnose or treat a sex-linked disorder or disease” ( 

The analysis makes the usual provision of providing information about fetal sex in order to avoid sex-linked disorders, but it otherwise wants to close the door on parental choice.  Why?  It argues that doing so helps avoid discrimination against women.  But it’s not clear to me from these kinds of analysis why parents should not be entitled to have the kind of children they want.  At the very least, one has to assume that female children born into families who do not want them – families who would have taken steps to avoid them if they were available – do not fare as well as other children.

I don’t disagree that people can have dubious motives for wanting to have only boys or only girls or only children in a particular order by sex.  I would have been happier to see an argument against abortion decisions based on fetal sex that addressed the issue head on:  why should parents – whoever they are – not be entitled to have children of the sex they want?  Why should the natural lottery alone decide what sex people have in their families?

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