The most surprising piece of information that I learned from the interview on personal genomics with George Church was that in the U.S., 80% of the parents who choose the sex of their child choose to have a girl. First of all, I was not aware that parents in the U.S. were allowed to choose their child’s sex. I have heard ethicists discuss what would happen if clinicians were to afford parents this choice, but I was not aware that it was already available in the U.S. Furthermore, at the point that parents are able to choose, I was surprised that such an overwhelming majority would choose to have girls. Church implied that in Asia, we would expect parents to overwhelmingly choose boys, which I would have predicted. However, I cannot identify any cultural traditions that would lead Americans to want female children. I would have expected about 50% of parents to want a male child and 50% to want a female child given how much we stress equality of the sexes here in the U.S. If not a 50-50 split, I would have predicted that more parents want boys, as boys may face less sexism as they grow up and will be able to carry on the family name.
If I had conducted the interview, I would be curious to ask George Church more about how most Americans feel about choosing the gender of their future child and, in Professor Goodman’s words, “playing God.” While the discussion touches on the fact that many people would feel uncomfortable making such a decision, it would be interesting to see data on how many people would want to choose their child’s gender if every prospective parent were afforded this option. Do most individuals really have no preference as to the gender of their child? Even among those who do have a preference, how many are still uncomfortable with the idea of “playing God”? I think such questions would help us better predict the future of bioengineering.