It's a Boy! (With All the Extras You Ordered)

Ian Ayers recently blegged you about boy-specific or girl-specific Happy Meal toys from McDonald’s.

But forget about toys; when was the last time your doctor asked if you’d like to choose your child’s sex?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a Los Angeles clinic that will soon let parents choose the sex of their unborn children. Their designer options also include physical traits including hair color, eye color, and even skin color.

This raises a mountain of questions, ethical and otherwise. But what might the unintended consequences be? Dubner and Levitt have written about how sex-specific abortions in Asian countries have created a huge gender gap in countries like India, China, and Pakistan. Would a designer-baby boom create a gender gap here — and in which direction?

If your doctor gave you the choice to customize your unborn child to your preferences, would you take it? And what would you choose?

C. Larity

I wouldn't choose the sex or skin color, but is it possible to add a flight option? Adamantium claws, perhaps?


Why leave this in the hands of parents? I smell an awesome field experiment!


How about hermaphrodite? I've always wanted a kid who will have a hard time adjusting socially.


My youngest child is 14, so this is in hindsight. I would have probably chosen to have male children just because I relate to them better. Not knowing that at the time, I probably would have gone for a millionaire's family (boy first, then girl) because that is the epitome of a perfect family. That being said, I don't think that choosing gender should be allowed, and the fact that I said I would have done it is enough reason. I would do it because I was able, not for any other good reason, and that reason isn't good enough at all. I'm not sure I agree with people having ultrasounds to find out the gender, let alone having the power to choose it.

As for choosing hair and eye colour - a little bit vain isn't it?

There are plenty of sci-fi's out there that depict a world of genetically engineered people, and from the ones that I recall, it never really turns out the way it was intended.


Anyone seen Gattaca?
This is a bad idea.

George Bush Sr.

What, no mention of Gattaca?


Only if it allowed us to have both a boy and a girl.


If I were going to choose, I would choose a boy. I imagine a lot of other people would as well. Why would any parent want their child's skin color to not match their own? Isn't one of the draws of procreating to have children that carry your physical traits? Every father I know is proud of the fact that his son looks like him.


How about avoiding unwanted genetic conditions that my child would otherwise be subject to - cancer, high cholesterol, hair loss, those kind of things.

Imad Qureshi

A little correction. Pakistan has more women than men. Population distribution is about 51% women and 49% men. Data is about 10 years old. Not that my country is in good shape or we don't have discrimination against women but I don't think we have abortions because of baby's sex. Most people are not even able to afford an ultrasound that would tell them the sex of baby.


Would it be useful if we can choose what extras NOT to have?
Certain conditions or deceases that we might inherit from generations a go like hearth decease, predisposition to diabetes and any kind of cancer would be the first ones to remove.
Knowing what you do not want makes room for more joy in your life. Imagine if we can control this; what would be the health insurance premium rate of this “desing-human” with zero chance of getting any of these conditions? What would be the impact in the country's health system? this is the research we have to encourage.

As of all of the other I will leave it to chance like my wife and I did last year and got blessed with Identical Twin Girls.


My wife and i already have a son, who is 18 months old. We had always planned to have two kids, and wanted both a boy and girl. I think we would seriously consider being able to choose the sex of a second child.

I can't say if we would choose any of the physical traits, but I am not vehemently opposed to the idea.

The article says that there were 137 clinics in the US offering the service of gender selection, so data ought to exist on preferences. Whether a gender gap would be created also depends on the cost. If very few can afford the service, the effect would probably be negligible.


@C. Larity Adamantium claws? That's just silly. Everyone knows that those aren't controlled by genetics. You'll have to put the baby through a special surgery after the birth for that option. However you may want to go ahead with the genetic option of regenerative healing factor though, otherwise the child may not survive the surgery.


Can I have a genetically perfect child please. And make every other child genetically perfect. Then we can all be exactly the same. That would be fun right? All the same? Like robots?


There would be some incentives to form coalitions between doctors and wives or doctors and husbands. I'd try to bribe the doctor to make me a dog. And when my wife would discover that, it would be already too late... Picture the conversation to go something like: honey, I know you are allergic, but what are you gonna do now? Its our baby!

Or maybe I'd ask him to get me a motorcycle. Can they do this?


If I were going to have a third child, and if I'd had two boys or two girls previous, I would be tempted to choose the sex of the third child (so as not to have the same sex as the others). As it stands, I have "one of each" so I wouldn't bother to 'spec' the third child. I would not be comfortable with choosing hair color etc.


I would probably select a boy first then a girl... but I would never actually pay for such a service. Its one thing to pay for IVF treatments when you're unable to conceive, its quite another to order a kid to spec.


Rather not pick, but if forced, I'd pick a boy. Cheaper and no need to intimidate every teenage boy a daughter might know.


I think that if I were still of child-bearing age, I would choose to have a child of a particular sex, in this case a girl, because I already have two boys. In some cultures, there is pressure to have children of a particular sex, but I think that in the USA at this point, the goal is to have an even mix of boys and girls. Certainly there is no consensus among my friends as to one sex being preferable to the other.

As to choosing hair color, eye color, etc., sorry to break this to you, but we already do that in part when we choose our boyfriends and girlfriends. I don't know anyone who didn't at some point ponder, "Would I want to have a child who looked like that?" And if we don't think this ourselves, our mothers will do this for us.... All this would do is eliminate a small level of guess-work. (This is also pretty much an entirely Caucasian concern. Hmmm....)


If the potential parents are Freakonomics fans, there would be a bias toward male children by people who wanted their marriage to last.