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Burying the Lead

Posted by Osagie Obasogie on April 7th, 2008


A research article published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences has a finding on sex selection that has startled some in the media: American couples of Chinese, Korean, and Indian heritage are unusually likely to have a boy if they already have girls. This suggests that these families have a son-preference leading them to select the sex of their second or third child to ensure that it is male. While the American media have frequently reported on sex selection and shifting sex ratios abroad, this seems to be the first empirical evidence that the practice and its consequences do not simply happen "over there."

The authors do not speculate which sex selection techniques couples are using. But the article and its coverage play into a popular yet problematic framing: son-preference and sex selection are posed only as demographic problems where choosing too many boys means that there won't be enough girls to marry them when they grow up. This fixation with sex ratios obscures the human stories behind these selection technologies, where women are often treated brutally for not delivering boys and unwanted female children are sometimes cruelly neglected. For a more comprehensive perspective on the social conditions surrounding sex selection, check out this online journal written by Sunita Puri based upon her extensive research into the lives affected by sex selection.





What makes surrogacy like military service?

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on April 4th, 2008


The unexpected finding in Newsweek's cover story about surrogacy in the U.S. is the preponderance of military wives among the women who sign up to carry and bear other people's babies: "IVF clinics and surrogate agencies in Texas and California say military spouses make up 50 percent of their carriers."

As the article makes clear, a key force driving this phenomenon is money.

It is an act of love, but also a financial transaction….Military wives who do decide to become surrogates can earn more with one pregnancy than their husbands' annual base pay (which ranges for new enlistees from $16,080 to $28,900).
Another factor is the nomadic nature of military life. According to one surrogacy broker, "Military wives can't sink their teeth into a career because they have to move around so much."

The article also focuses on the surrogates' desires to help other people, "to contribute, do something positive." Military wives are portrayed as particularly prone to such sentiments:
"In the military, we have that mentality of going to extremes, fighting for your country, risking your life," says Jennifer Hansen, 25, a paralegal who's married to Army Sgt. Chase Hansen…."I think that being married to someone in the military embeds those values in you. I feel I'm taking a risk now, in less of a way than he is, but still a risk with my life and body to help someone."
In fact, there are additional similarities between surrogacy and military service. Both involve putting your body and health on the line for a cause. Both require giving up some of the autonomy that most adults take for granted: Other people claim control over what you eat, drink, and do; when and where you travel. And your commitment is 24/7 for the duration of the tour of duty: the only outs are AWOL in the military and abortion in a surrogacy arrangement.

All the surrogacy business needs now is recruiters. But wait - they already have those:
Surrogate agencies target the population [of military wives] by dropping leaflets in the mailboxes of military housing complexes, such as those around San Diego's Camp Pendleton, and placing ads in on-base publications such as the Military Times and Military Spouse.

I wonder if any of those leaflets are headlined "Looking for a few good women."

Previously on Biopolitical Times:







Facts on the Ground

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on April 2nd, 2008


Researchers in the United Kingdom announced yesterday that they had successfully created (mostly) human clonal embryos using animal eggs. These hybrid embryos, intended for stem cell research, were able to divide to thirty-two cells over three days. That's not quite enough to be able to extract stem cells.

It's discouraging enough that this development was announced via a press release, and not a peer-reviewed publication, particularly so soon after an editorial in Nature decrying haste to publication in stem cell science. The announcement also comes just as the contentious Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is reaching the UK Parliament, with this very human-animal hybrid cloning process one of the most controversial platforms.

One need not be that cynical to believe that these researchers are trying to change the "facts on the ground" for the upcoming debate.





More on Personal Genomics

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on March 26th, 2008


New types of community?

For a front-page Washington Post article on the burgeoning - and completely unregulated - personal genetic testing industry, Rick Weiss gathered some real howlers. Here's a quote from Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe:

"We envision a new type of community where people will come together around specific genotypes, and these artificial barriers of country and race will start to break down."

Weiss also includes some zingers, in a far more sober register. He writes,

"One subtle but potentially insidious downside of the new trend, [director of the National Human Genome Research Institute Francis] Collins said, is that people may slip into the DNA-deterministic thinking that fed the early 20th-century eugenics movement, in which people with `undesirable' traits underwent forced sterilizations."

Collins continued:

"I very much worry that all this emphasis on a 'gene for this' and 'gene for that' raises the risk that people will conclude that that's the whole story."

Collins has also addressed these concerns in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, co-authored with W. Gregory Feero and Alan E. Guttmacher. "The Genome Gets Personal - Almost" concludes this way:

There are many rapid advances in personalized medicine to celebrate. But if the goal is to empower [patients] to take full advantage of these discoveries, it is far too early to declare victory. A great deal of complex, groundbreaking, and multidisciplinary research is still needed before personal genomics reaches the mainstream of medicine.





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