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Wanna have a boy? Eat more!

April 25, 2008

Here is a short quiz. Which one of the following three ways to stop female-feticide in its current form can be most feasible?

1) Change the mindset of the society and thereby the desire to prefer boys over girls

2) Render unavailable the technology for pre-natal sex-determination

3) Discover means for couples to conceive a child of the gender they desire

If you had crossed off option 3, you may well want to reconsider your decision. A recent research report from Oxford and University of Exeter in England (covered yesterday in the NY Times article), has found evidence that mother’s diet at the time of conception may influence whether the child is a boy or a girl. The study found a positive correlation between the (high) amount of energy intake and the (male) sex of the child. Translated, it means that more the mother eats at the time of conception, greater is the likelihood of conceiving a boy. (Click here for the study).

Well, aside from questions regarding the validity and generalizability of the study, were this finding to be true (or if researchers find some other factor that increases the likelihood of (or even completely determines) conceiving a child of desired gender), wouldn’t that obviate the need for pre-natal sex-determination or even sex-selective abortion?

For example, “Newer technologies now allow sex selection prior to conception, e.g. techniques for separation of the X-bearing and Y-bearing sperm to use one or the other for in vitro fertilization (IVF) or artificial insemination.” (Oomman & Ganatra, 2002)

This raises some questions. Of course, the crux of the issue – gender discrimination – will still exist, but will it not reduce female feticide or infanticide? And would it be ethical to deprive a couple of their right to select the sex of their child if they are not harming an existing life in the process?

It appears that, with time, science will only it make it more possible and easier to conceive children of the desired sex through techniques of selection before conception, at the time of conception, during pregnancy, or through technology for pre-natal sex-determination followed by the iterative cycle of abortion and retrial, if necessary, to have a male child.

So, sadly, even though the correct answer on the above quiz may be option #3, it is imperative that we strive towards option #1, very difficult though it may be.

(On a side note, if consuming more food during conception increases the likelihood of bearing a male child, could this be the explanation for the skewed sex-ratio in prosperous states like Punjab, where the Punjabis are known to eat more all year and all-life long? 🙂

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