A prominent fertility doctor, who provides sex-selection of tourists’ embryos, considers himself to be working in “the happiest field in medicine, where we’re basically helping couples achieve dreams that otherwise they might not be able to achieve.”
For the past five years, Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg’s Fertility Institutes of Los Angeles and Las Vegas have offered pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for the purpose of sex-selection. When a birth results, the technique is almost 100 per cent guaranteed to provide the sex of the parents’ choice, since it uses the methodology of in-vitro fertilization and the extraction of chromosomes from embryos already conceived. Two older, less-reliable techniques have also been opposed by pro-lifers, because they disrupt the conjugal act, represent potential danger to mothers and require masturbation for the collection of sperm samples. But both of those techniques – the MicroSort method and the Ericsson method – involve testing of the chromosomes of gametes rather than of new human beings.
The Interim reported on the problem of sex-selection abortions in Canada last month; ironically, in this country, PGD for the purpose of sex-selection is illegal. Here, the technique is only allowed for the purpose of eliminating embryos at risk of hereditary disease, which may be sex-linked. Even those who support assisted reproductive technology may oppose Steinberg’s work, because the sex-selection patients are not infertile, and are not trying to rule out disease.
Well over 100 Canadian couples have skirted the law here and sought services at The Fertility Institutes, at the time of this interview, there were five active Canadian patients. While the majority of his 2,000 sex-selection PGD cases have been American, Canadian medical tourists are the most frequent international visitors, with Chinese tourists being second. The motivation, Steinberg told The Interim, is almost always “family balancing” – “98 percent of the couples that come in are asking for the gender opposite what they’ve (already) got.”
“The Canadians in general are requesting a few more girls … about 60-40 (for) girls, but not the ethnic groups. In other words, the Canadian-Canadians want more girls. The Asian couples and the Indian couples definitely are after a boy.” Steinberg refuted an incorrect mainstream media report that visitors from Ontario and Saskatchewan are the most likely Canadian patients. He clarified that, “Saskatchewan is definitely not the predominant area – it’s Toronto and Vancouver.”
Steinberg denies many common objections to sex-selection PGD. He is not concerned about exacerbating any sex ratio unbalance at the societal level, because the overall selection ratio from his clinics is 50-50. He does not find that his practice is enabling misogyny, since the majority of inquiries are made by women. He does not have qualms about offering his service and prefers it to sex-selection by subsequent abortion or infanticide. If ethicists unanimously opposed to the practice, or an American law, forbade it, Steinberg and his associates would discontinue the service, but “where there’s diversity in the feelings, it’s not our role to impose our ethics one way or the other.”
Finally, Steinberg believes his work matters. “In the U.S., and in Canada, I used to think, we really cherish reproductive rights and people have to take a real deep breath before they start to impose their will on those reproductive choices that people are entitled to. So we’re lucky.”