Why wait? Find out your baby's sex at six weeks

A test from DNA Worldwide analyzes a mother's blood to determine her fetus' sex. Could it lead to sex selection?

Published May 4, 2007 8:39PM (EDT)

Here's an interesting addition to the debate over how much information you should able to glean about your fetus before it's born: A company called DNA Worldwide sells a kit to determine your baby's sex six weeks after conception. (Traditionally, women have had to wait 20 weeks for an ultrasound analysis.)

The test uses a finger prick from the mother (which you send in to DNA Worldwide's lab) to tell the baby's sex. It works because a small amount of the baby's DNA passes into the mother's blood during pregnancy -- which means that if there's any Y chromosomes in the mother's blood, she's going to have a boy.

Weird, right? I mean, the test is convenient for impatient parents. But it brings up the usual issue of whether this might lead to sex selection -- that is, people aborting babies just because of their sex. The DNA Worldwide Web site even addresses this concern on its ethics page, specifically saying, "As a company we, together with the manufacturers of the test, have decided not to sell the early gender test into China and India and some other areas, as it is not our intention that the Pink or Blue test should be used, either directly or indirectly, for sex selection."

It's a nice gesture, but I mean, come on: There's always the black market. Also, believe it or not, China and India don't actually contain every single person in the world who might practice sex selection.

But perhaps I'm being overly harsh because of two bizarre phone conversations I just had with DNA Worldwide representatives. I was wondering why there were so many articles out in the British press today about the tests (see the Sun, the Daily Mail and the BBC as examples), since when you go to the company's Web site, the tests don't appear to be new. I called the company twice to ask what the actual news was (i.e., was today the first time the tests were available online? Were they previously only available in America?). Both people I spoke to put me on hold, then said they didn't know how long the tests had been available or why they were in the news. When I tried to ask the second representative if they'd been out for "a couple of months" (as had been suggested by the first person I spoke with), she politely hung up on me. Weird! I don't think that bizarre phone representative behavior necessarily means anything about the company itself -- but if anyone has leads on how long this test has been out and why the British media's in a frenzy over it today, do tell.

(Oh, and if you want to comment on whether wickedly early sex testing is a good or bad idea, feel free to do that, too.)

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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