Gender is not a disease," a Northwestern University fertility specialist recently told The Washington Post. "My job is to help people make healthy babies, not help people design their babies."

And yet, when affluent couples select the sex of their babies by using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in connection with in vitro fertilization, they are in danger of treating gender like a disease.

PGD was developed to detect genetically transmitted diseases such as hemophilia and Tay-Sachs disease and to allow couples to destroy those "defective" embryos. Pro-life Christians shudder at the deliberate destruction of any embryo, but applying this search-and-destroy technique to sex selection adds a new and frightening dimension to reproductive technology: We are now seeing the intersection of old-fashioned eugenic ideology with the very American ethic of choice.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the eugenics movement flourished as high-minded moral reformers (including many evangelical Christians) sought to perfect society by purging it of "undesirables." People with disabilities or destructive habits were discouraged or banned from reproducing. One prominent evangelical crusader spoke of "the great and rapidly increasing army of idiots, insane, imbeciles, blind, deaf-mutes, epileptics, paralytics, the murderers, thieves, drunkards, and moral perverts" and called them "very poor material with which to subdue the world," and usher in the glad day when "all shall know the Lord." She suggested that there were "hundreds and thousands of men and women … to whom in the interests of future generations, some rigid law should say, 'Write this one childless.'"

The eugenics movement finally lost its last shred of credibility as the horrors of Nazi attempts to exterminate the "defectives" became known. Since then, Christians have learned to love those with physical or mental limitations—and not only to love them, but to see them as God's gifts.

Our desire for choice has become insatiable. "These are grown-up people expressing their reproductive choices," the director of a fertility institute told The Washington Post. "We cherish that in the United States."

Too true. Choice is now the market analog of political liberty. Transpose the political notions of liberty into a commercial framework and you get choice, with the maximization of choice as a supreme value. Transpose choice again, into the moral sphere, and you get not liberty but anarchy.

The culture of choice uses any available technology to further the range of choice—the one value of American society that we seem loathe to question. From the time of Archimedes, technology has, of course, been about conquering human limitations. There is nothing new about the desire to influence the sex of our children, and to do so people have used everything from folk remedies to abortion and infanticide. But what limits are we trying to overcome? Are we trying to conquer chance—to beat the odds in the gender lottery? Or is it providence we want to control?

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If you see gender as providential, as a gift from God, then whichever sex you are, whichever sex your child is, you are blessed. Maleness and femaleness are alike "very good." And like all good gifts, the gift of sexuality reveals something about the Giver. And like all good givers, his gifts are personal, and the proper response is gratitude.

On Christmas morning, one does not reject a gift and demand to have what some other family member has received. Human sexuality is a gift to be received, not an attribute to be engineered.

Related Elsewhere:

In "A Boy for You, a Girl for Me: Technology Allows Choice," The Washington Post looked at parents who wanted to chose the gender of their children.

CBS News and Newsweek also looked at the issue.

H. Bentley Glass, the geneticist who said, "No parents will in that future time have a right to burden society with a malformed or a mentally incompetent child," died recently.

The President's Council on Bioethics prepared a preliminary paper before its full discussion of sex selection.

China banned abortion for sex selection purposes.

The Christian Medical & Dental Associations has provided ethics statements on reproductive technologies on its website.

Other recent Christianity Today articles on Life Ethics includes:

Bitter Pill | FDA strengthens warning on RU-486. (Jan. 24, 2005)
Post-Election Education | Pro-lifers weigh options after Californians fund embryonic stem-cell research. (Dec. 01, 2004)
It's Not About Stem Cells | Why we must clarify the debate over harvesting embryos. (Sept. 29, 2004)
California's Prop. 71 Stem-Cell 'Scam' | Supporters of cloning embryos for research have $11 million to convince state voters. (Sept. 29, 2004)
Pro-Abortion Madness | The abortion lobby has abandoned its rationales amid pro-life gains. (Aug. 17, 2004)
The Proposition 71 Stem Cell Scam | The biotech lobby is attempting to buy a law in California, Wesley J. Smith says. (Aug. 17, 2004)
Speaking Out: Life with Dignity | Let's not be too eager to pull the plug on our fellow image-bearers. (Aug. 13, 2004)
Unwanted Interruptions | Why is our culture so hostile to children-inside and outside the womb? (June 22, 2004)
When Does Personhood Begin? | And what difference does it make? (June 18, 2004)

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