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Unformatted text preview: EG1413 NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE EXAMINATION FOR THE DEGREE OF
BACHELOR OF ENGINEERING
EG1413 – CRITICAL THINKING AND WRITING (SEMESTER 1: 2009/2010)
Time Allowed: 2 Hours INSTRUCTIONS TO CANDIDATES 1. This examination paper contains ONE (1) question and comprises EIGHT (8) printed
pages. 2. Answer THE QUESTION in the ANSWER BOOKLET provided. 3. Hand in the ANSWER BOOKLET at the end of this examination. 4. This is a CLOSED BOOK examination. 2
In approximately 750 words, write a critique of the article “Sex Selection Technologies
Should Be Left to Parental Choice”. Your critique should: Summarize the writer’s argument (in no more than one paragraph);
Evaluate the argument, i.e. assess its strengths and weaknesses;
Make reference to the secondary materials “Sex selection leads to abortion in Asia”
and “Sex selection technologies should be regulated” where appropriate (avoiding
plagiarism and using the APA conventions for in-text and end-of-text citation);
Be accurately written and cohesive. Sex Selection Technologies Should Be Left to Parental Choice
For centuries, couples have been trying to influence the sex of their children by myriads of
dubious tricks. Needless to say, all these old wives' tales turned out to be a forlorn hope.
Thanks to MicroSort, sex selection is now a reality. With the new technology currently being
tested in a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved clinical trial, parents will soon be
able to choose the sex of their children prior to conception. MicroSort allows separating the
sperm that produce a boy from the sperm that produce a girl. The separated sperm can then be
used for artificial insemination.
Ban in UK
Not everyone is excited over these prospects, though. For example, to prevent British fertility
specialists from offering MicroSort for social reasons, the Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority (HFEA) recently advised the government of the United Kingdom to
enact a law prohibiting sex selection for any but the most serious of medical reasons. Is there
any valid justification for criminalizing social sex selection? I do not think so—at least not in
a Western liberal democracy.
Each citizen should have the right to live his life as he chooses so long as he does not infringe
upon the rights of others. The state may interfere with the free choices of its citizens only to
prevent serious harm to others.
The presumption in favour of liberty has at least three important implications. Firstly, the
burden of proof is always on those who opt for a legal prohibition of a particular action.
Secondly, the evidence for the harm to occur has to be clear and persuasive. It must not be
based upon highly speculative sociological or psychological assumptions. And thirdly, the
mere fact that an action may be seen by some as contrary to their moral or religious beliefs
does not suffice for a legal prohibition. The domain of the law is not the enforcement of
morality, but the prevention of harm to others.
With this in mind, let us turn to some of the most common objections to sex selection and see
whether they provide a rational basis for outlawing it. 3
A constantly recurring objection to sex selection is that choosing the sex of our children is to
'play God'. This religious objection has been made to all kinds of medical innovations. What
was once seen as 'playing God' is now seen as acceptable medical practice. More importantly,
the objection that sex selection is a violation of 'God's Law' is an explicit religious claim. In
Western liberal democracies, no government is entitled to pass a law to enforce compliance
with a specific religion.
Unnatural Is Not Immoral
Some are opposed to sex selection because they have the feeling it is somehow 'unnatural'.
Like the objection that choosing the sex of our children is playing God, the claim that sex
selection is not natural most often expresses an intuitive reaction rather than a clearly
reasoned moral response. That a particular human action is unnatural does not imply that it is
morally wrong. To transplant a heart to save a human life is certainly unnatural, but is it for
that reason immoral? Surely not! Thus, if we have to decide whether an action is morally
right or wrong we cannot settle the issue by asking whether it is natural or unnatural.
A more serious objection to sex selection is based on the claim that medical procedures ought
to be employed for medical purposes only. However, we have already become accustomed to
a medical system in which physicians often provide services that have no direct medical
benefit but that do have great personal value for the individuals seeking them. Given the
acceptance of breast enlargements, hair replacements, ultrasound assisted liposuctions and
other forms of cosmetic surgery, one cannot, without calling that system into question,
condemn a practice merely because it uses a medical procedure for lifestyle or child-rearing
A related objection insists that offering a service for social sex selection constitutes an
inappropriate use of limited medical resources. Again, if offering face-lifts is not considered
to be a misallocation of scarce medical resources, it is hard to see how offering sex selection
can be considered to be a misallocation of scarce medical resources. Provided such
businesses are set up privately and their services are paid for privately, they do not take away
Perhaps the most powerful objection to sex selection is that it may distort the natural sex ratio
and lead to a severe imbalance of the sexes, as has occurred in countries such as India, China,
and Korea. A surplus of men and a shortage of women, some sociologists have predicted, will
invariably cause an enormous rise in enforced celibacy, homosexuality, polyandry,
prostitution, molestation, rape and other sex-related crimes. However, whether or not a
drastic distortion of the natural sex ratio poses a real threat to Western societies is an
empirical question that cannot be answered by mere intuition, but by scientific evidence.
Worldwide, there are already about 75 Fertility Centers that offer some method of sperm
sorting followed by artificial insemination. According to the leading Gender Clinic, the
MicroSort Unit of the Genetics & IVF Institute in Fairfax, Virginia, well over 90 percent of
couples seeking social sex selection are parents who already have two or three children of the
same sex and long to have just one more child of the opposite sex. 4
Clearly, the widespread fear of a sex ratio distortion seems to be unjustified. Besides, the
potential problem is easily resolved—namely by limiting the service for sex selection to the
purpose of ‘family balancing’. If access to sex selection were restricted to parents having at
least two children of the same sex, then helping them to have a child of the opposite sex
would, if at all, only marginally alter the balance of the sexes.
Another frequently advanced objection claims that sex selection is ‘inherently sexist’. For
example, the feminist philosopher Tabitha Powledge argues that sex selection is deeply
wrong because it makes ‘the most basic judgment about the worth of a human being rest first
and foremost on its sex.’ However, this argument is deeply flawed. It is simply false that all
people who would like to choose the sex of their children are motivated by the sexist belief
that one sex is more valuable than the other. As we have seen, almost all couples seeking sex
selection are simply motivated by the desire to have at least one child of each sex.
Last but not least, there is the widely popular objection that sex selection is the first step
down a road that will inevitably lead to the creation of "designer babies." Once we allow
parents to choose the sex of their children, we will soon find ourselves allowing them to
choose their eye colour, their height, or their intelligence. This slippery slope objection calls
for three remarks. First, it is not an argument against sex selection, but only against its
alleged consequences. Second, and more importantly, it is based on the assumption that we
are simply incapable of preventing the alleged consequences from happening. However, this
view is utterly untenable. It is perfectly possible to draw a legal line permitting some forms of
selection and prohibiting others. And third, the slippery slope argument presumes that sliding
down the slope is going to have detrimental, if not devastating, social effects. However, in the
case of selecting offspring traits this is far from obvious. What is so terrifying about the idea
that some parents may be foolish enough to spend their hard-earned money on genetic
technologies just to ensure their child will be born with big brown eyes and black curly hair?
Since it cannot be established that preconception sex selection would cause any serious harm
to others, a legal ban is ethically unjustified. However, that sex selection ought not to be
prohibited does not preclude regulating its practice. For example, to limit sex selection
services to licensed centres subject to monitoring by health authorities seems entirely
appropriate. This would not only guarantee high scientific standard and high quality
professional care, but it would also enable detailed research on possible demographic
consequences and thus allow action if—contrary to expectations—significant imbalances
were to develop.
Adapted from Edgar Dahl. "Sex Selection Technologies Should Be Left to Parental Choice."
Opposing Viewpoints: Reproductive Technologies. Ed. Clay Farris Naff. Detroit: Greenhaven Press,
Retrieved 25 Aug. 2009 from: Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Self-Access English
Learning Facility. 5
Sex Selection Leads to Abortions in Asia
Gender imbalance is a serious problem in Asia, particularly China and India. Boys greatly
outnumber girls in these societies due to the practice of female foeticide and infanticide.
Population control programs that encourage people to have small families have worsened the
problem because Asian traditions consider girls to be economic liabilities; therefore, women
only want to give birth to sons, who can help provide for their families. Violence against
women is another consequence of gender imbalance and will remain a problem if
governments cannot successfully enforce laws that prevent sex-selective abortions.
Preventing Sex-Selective Abortion
The Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT Act) in India is powerful indeed, but rarely
enforced. Passed after India realised that modern medical techniques such as ultrasound scans
and amniocenteses were frequently being used to identify female foetuses—which were then
aborted—the PNDT Act requires the registration of all ultrasound machines, and bans doctors
from revealing the sex of the foetus to expectant parents. The 1994 law was an attempt to
reverse India's rampant use of sex-selective abortion, and the lopsided sex ratio this has
produced. India's 2001 census showed that there were 927 girls to every 1,000 boys, down
from 945:1,000 in 1991 and 962:1,000 in 1981. Until recently, no doctors had been put in
prison under the PNDT Act. In March 2006, however, a doctor was jailed for three years after
he told an undercover investigator that her foetus was female and hinted that she could abort
While the numbers of such abortions may be a matter of debate, the general trend is not: the
ratio of girls to boys in India has been dwindling over the past two decades. In 1991, not a
single district in India had a child sex ratio of less than 800:1,000. By 2001, there were 14.
The prospects are even bleaker elsewhere in Asia. In South Korea and China, official
numbers suggest that there are 855 girls for every 1,000 boys. In the case of China,
independent experts put it even lower, at 826:1,000. Whichever is correct, the Chinese
demographic picture is more unbalanced than back in 1990, when the statistics showed 901
girls for every 1,000 boys. Today, in parts of Hainan and Guangdong Provinces, the ratio is
769:1,000. The Chinese scenario has already produced a glut of bachelors, which experts say
will only get worse. A 2002 article in International Security magazine estimated that by 2020
there will be up to 33 million ‘bare branches’, as these young, unmarried men are known.
Some demographers have put the figure even higher, at 40 million.
Asia's dearth of girls, say researchers, is partly a function of official reproductive health
policies. In the late 20th century, both China and India embarked on population-control
programmes. In China, from the 1950s to the 1970s, when the government needed female
workers, female infanticide dropped to the lowest levels the country had ever known, a 2004
study in the Journal of Population Research reported. After 1979, however, when the
infamous one-child policy was introduced, female infanticide and foeticide became more
common. In India, the public health campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s drummed home the
official line: happy families were small ones. Abortion, legalised in 1970, "was pursued with
an almost patriotic zeal," recalls Dr Puneet Bedi, a Delhi obstetrician and anti-sex-selection
activist. Tellingly, the Indian states that did particularly well in curbing population growth—
the Punjab, Delhi and Haryana among them—are today those with the most skewed sex
ratios. "A large part of the small family ideal is achieved by eliminating girls," says George. 6
India's new open markets have made it easier. Easy credit and aggressive marketing by
foreign companies made it possible for thousands of clinics to buy ultrasound machines.
Between 1988 and 2003, there was a 33-fold increase in the annual manufacture of these
machines in India. Doctors advertised their possibilities widely. "Boy or girl?" asked adverts,
before the PNDT Act outlawed them. A 2005 report by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic
Control of Armed Forces noted that sex selection had become ‘a booming business’ not only
in India, but also in China and South Korea.
Governments are trying to change the conventional mindset, but their efforts have not paid
off. The latest statistics suggest that Delhi's sex ratio stands at roughly 814 girls to 1,000
boys. This is down from 845:1,000 in 2003.
If such trends continue, the future could be nightmarish. In their 2004 book Bare Branches:
The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population, the political scientists Andrea
den Boer and Valerie Hudson argue that the existence of all these millions of frustrated Asian
bachelors will boost crime and lawlessness. Indian activists also fear that the girl shortage
will create a hyper-macho society.
The spectre of millions of lawless bachelors seems a far cry from the bureaucratic world-view
of Arvind Kumar in Hyderabad. If India's officials could just implement the PNDT Act, he
believes, the demographic tide could be reversed.
Adapted from Carla Power. "Sex Selection Leads to Abortions in Asia." At Issue: Should Parents Be
Allowed to Choose the Gender of Their Children? Ed. Laura K. Egendorf. Detroit: Greenhaven Press,
Retrieved 23 Sep. 2009 from: Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Self-Access English
Learning Facility. Sex Selection Should Be Regulated
Preimplantation genetic testing should be regulated because such tests should only be used
for legitimate scientific and medical purposes. Approximately 10 percent of these tests,
however, are used by parents who want to determine the sex of their children for nonmedical
reasons, which leads to concerns about other nonmedical testing.
Ethical Debates on PGD
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)—testing performed after an egg is fertilized in vitro
but before the resulting embryo is transferred to the womb—makes it possible for some
prospective parents to select specific embryos before a pregnancy begins. Originally
developed more than a decade ago to identify the relatively small number of embryos at high
risk for serious or fatal genetic diseases, the technology now encompasses genetic tests for a
growing number of illnesses, including some that are not necessarily fatal. These tests are
available to more and more parents as the popularity of in vitro fertilization (IVF) skyrockets;
approximately 50,000 babies are born through IVF in the United States every year.
If parents increasingly choose IVF because it will offer them the opportunity to tailor their
children's genetic traits and sex, will the economic division of society become even deeper— 7
separating those who can afford IVF (clinics in the United States generally charge between
$6,000 and $16,000) from those who cannot? "This is a potentially disruptive technology,
one that can change the social structure and order," says David Adamson, president-elect of
the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and director of a private fertility clinic in
Reasons for Genetic Tests
According to a survey, screening for chromosomal abnormalities that can lead to
implantation failure or miscarriage, or for disorders linked to chromosome duplication or
deletion (such as Down's syndrome), represents two-thirds of all PGD testing. Forty-three
percent of clinics said they had received requests for PGD that they felt raised ethical
questions; most of these were from parents who wanted to select the sex of a child for
nonmedical reasons. The survey found that this use of PGD is fairly common: almost one in
ten tests was for nonmedical sex selection, a service offered by 42 percent of clinics.
Since it is the only PGD test that is often administered without medical justification, sex
selection is especially contentious; some fertility clinics will not offer it, and some ethicists
say that nonmedical sex selection opens the door to other types of nonmedical testing. But
others argue that biological enhancement through genetic screening is not so alarming, or at
least not so different from other types of advantages that are already enjoyed by a certain
privileged sector of the population.
Testing for medical purposes brings its own set of problems. Only a limited number of
genetic variations present the kind of clear-cut case for which PGD was originally developed:
the certainty of a serious or fatal disease. But what about testing for genes that merely raise
the risk of a disease? Or for genes linked to a relatively manageable disease, such as
diabetes? As more disease-linked gene variants are discovered—and the list is rapidly
growing—parents will face so many choices that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to
determine which genetic combination will produce the healthiest child.
Testing Should Be Regulated
In the United Kingdom, a government body licenses fertility labs and regulates which tests
can be administered. But the United States has fewer rules; it is one of the few countries, for
example, that permit nonmedical sex selection. Decisions regarding PGD are left in the hands
of doctors or clinics. Professional societies provide some ethical guidelines—the American
Society for Reproductive Medicine, for example, recommends against sex selection for
nonmedical reasons, though it has little to say about other aspects of PGD. But voluntary
guidelines regulating a profit-driven industry may not be enough to help prospective parents.
"I think people will be guilted into doing this, rather than choosing it," says Caplan. They
may also be guilted into testing that does not make good on the promise of a healthier child;
most of the newly discovered genes have relatively weak correlations with disease or play
small roles in complicated processes, and some may affect the body in ways that scientists
don't yet fully understand.
Some kind of regulation for preimplantation genetic testing is needed, but the rules must
focus not on limiting which tests a parent can choose but on making sure that clinics can
scientifically justify the claims made for each test. Then parents and their doctors can begin
to make informed choices. "I definitely think the government has a role to play in regulating 8
the safety and quality of tests and in the application of tests," says Adamson. "But the final
choice, once tests are considered to be scientifically legitimate, should be left up to patients
Adapted from Emily Singer. "Sex Selection Should Be Regulated." At Issue: Should Parents Be
Allowed to Choose the Gender of Their Children?. Ed. Laura K. Egendorf. Detroit: Greenhaven Press,
Retrieved 21 Sep. 2009 from: Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Self-Access English
(Emily Singer is the biotechnology and life sciences editor of Technology Review, a magazine
published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.) -END OF PAPER- ...
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This note was uploaded on 11/01/2011 for the course EG 1413 taught by Professor Prof during the Spring '11 term at National University of Singapore.
- Spring '11