UMBC Professors Debate Sex Selection

Dr. Kalfoglu debates Dr. Lindahl about the ethics, advantages and dangers of sex selection through Pr-implantation genetic diagnosis embryo screening.

In front of a nearly full Public Policy lecture hall, two University of Maryland Baltimore County professors debated the ethics of parents choosing the sex of their child on Tuesday April 8.

The UMBC Biology Council of Majors organized the debate between Dr. Andrea Kalfoglu and Dr. Lasse Lindahl to inform the student body about the issue. The debate focused on Pr-implantation genetic diagnosis embryo screening. This is a process that can be used to detect and eliminate diseases, or to determine the sex of the embryo. The debate focused on whether sex selection would be harmful or beneficial to the human race, and how people should control their use of sex selection without resorting to government intervention.

Laws are already being written in state legislatures about this topic, including one mentioned by Kalfoglu that bans selective abortion in South Dakota. Selective abortion is when people abort their child if it is not the gender they wanted. Both professors believe this debate should not be solved by government intervention, so their goal for the debate is to spread awareness about the topic. Kalfoglu wants people to be able to select their child’s sex if they want to.

“As the field of genetics grew, that opened up a new field for genetic technology,” said Kalfoglu, “I intended to argue that the government should not handle sex selection technology, primarily because I do not trust them. The use of technology should ultimately be left up to physicians…labs and the potential parents.”

The debate began with both sides presenting their opening arguments about the possible effects of sex selection on societies around the world. Both professors agreed on the first key point, which is that government should not be involved in deciding the future of sex selection. Kalfoglu used the argument that men in Congress do not know enough about the female reproductive system to tell women what to do with their bodies.

Kalfoglu’s argument centered around the idea that sex selection can help deal with different social issues that plague the world. According to Kalfoglu, sex selection can improve sex ratio imbalances lead to fewer abortions and help women living in sexist societies. She used China as an example where there are 1.3 million men for every one million women.

Kalfoglu spoke against the idea that gender selection will lead parents to have preconceived notions about their children. This may cause parents to force their kids into certain gender roles, such as a boy playing sports. Kalfoglu argues that these notions already exist in our society, and choosing the sex of a child will not amplify them.

“Grandparents were asked in a study and said, It doesn’t matter what you do to manufacture kids, they are going to disappoint you.” said Kalfoglu.

Lindahl, on the other hand, wants to warn people about the potential dangers of people willingly choosing their child’s sex. Lindahl argued that science can do as much harm as good, citing the atomic bomb as an example. He believes that preconceived notions will be heightened if parents are allowed to choose the sex of their children.

“Being a scientist, we should not always do something just because we can.” said Lindahl.

Lindahl describes himself as a social libertarian and believes that sex selection should not be regulated by the government, but that private citizens should not choose the sex of their children. He compared government regulation of sex selection to the Affordable Care Act, claiming that the government could not get healthcare right and would not be able to properly regulate sex selection. He is concerned that the government is becoming to involved in the lives of Americans, and with the technology approaching quicker than he thought, he wanted to get his argument out.

“It seems to be something that is coming up. Until I read up on some of the issues regarding this debate, I was unaware that the technology was as far along. It is the same technique we use on yeast cells in my lab, I was not aware that it was being used to sort sperm cells,” said Lindahl.

Students came away from the debate with mixed feelings about sex selection. Seniors Tumi Oludemi and Dijo Abraham both came into the debate with a small amount of background on the topic, and they both agreed that Kalfoglu used more empirical data for her argument, while Lindahl used philosophical arguments. Oludemi came away agreeing with Lindahl, however Abraham was conflicted.

“I’m still pretty fuzzy on my decision on the debate, I honestly do not think it is a big deal, but there is a stigma which is big cultural problem that is impossible to address. People are going to do this through abortion anyway,” said Abraham.

When this topic was brought to the discussion boards on myUMBC by Biology Council of Majors President Dominick DiMercurio, it created a small controversy. On the online poll 55 percent of responders said they could not be convinced to change their minds. Despite the unwillingness to compromise their beliefs, the boards created a long discussion about the dangers and advantages of sex selection.

“We got little bit on the myUMBC discussion board, they divulged into the differences between sex and gender. There has been discussion and that is good, to take what you learn in a textbook and look at what the greater ethical issues are,” said DiMercurio.

Humans are still in the early days of sex selection technology, however the technology exists and it is part of the future that UMBC students will live through.

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One thought on “UMBC Professors Debate Sex Selection

  1. Another solid, well-reported piece, Nathan. Only 2 criticisms – you didn’t mention K & L’s departmental affiliations and your final graf is editorializing. Best to end with DiMercurio’s quote. But overall, very fine work!

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