Pink or Blue? The Early Gender Test

New Test Raises Ethical Questions

Until recently, parents would need to wait several months before finding out their baby's gender. But, researchers at Tufts University confirmed this week the accuracy of a new at-home gender test used in the early weeks of pregnancy by expecting parents to find out whether it will be a boy or a girl.

Researchers examined a new at-home gender-determining blood tests, which makes it easier for expecting mothers to find out the gender of the baby as early as seven weeks into their pregnancy.

Expecting parents usually find out about their baby’s sex at around 18-20 weeks via ultrasound, with disputed accuracy, a quicker, popular, and perhaps more effective method of choice now is to purchase early gender test kits to determine the sex of the baby.

The team, from the Tufts University School of Medicine, said the test may be particularly valuable for families that harbour sex-linked genetic disorders like haemophilia.

Because such disorders mostly strike boys, knowing that the baby is a girl could spare the mother diagnostic procedures, such as amniocentesis, that carry a small risk of miscarriage, according to researchers.

Though not widely offered by doctors, gender-detecting blood tests have been sold online to consumers for the past few years.

How is the test done?

Mothers can simply collect and send in a small finger-prick blood sample to the DNA testing laboratory when they reach their eligibility date-seven weeks post-conception. Results are back in as little as 3-5 days.

Touted to have a 95 percent accuracy rating, researchers sought to document the overall performance of these noninvasive fetal sex determination tests by studying more than 6,000 pregnancy tests. The university published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The team did not study commercial tests that were directly sold to consumers like the widely known gender test “Pink or Blue." They did choose to analyze tests that employed similar methods including tests that measured the male Y chromosome in the mother’s bloodstream.

Researchers also discovered there was a high accuracy rate in determining the fetus’ gender when using maternal blood.

As the gestational age increased, the accuracy was even higher. For example, testing after 20 weeks yielded a 99 percent accuracy rate while testing at 7 to 12 weeks had 94.8 percent accuracy.

An Ethical Debate?

Senior author Diana W. Bianchi, the executive director of the Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center said she was impressed by the results.

According to Bianchi, British doctors were already using these simple blood tests to help determine treatment for expecting parents who were at risk of having babies with sex-linked diseases or hemophilia.

But researchers of the study were also wary about the results, concerned that some parents would use the tests for purposes like gender selection or abortion.

'What you have to consider is the ethics of this,' said Dr Mary Rosser at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

'If parents are using it to determine gender and then terminate the pregnancy based on that, that could be a problem. Remember, gender is not a disease."

In China and India, where males were valued more than females, an increasing number of women who used gender prediction tests decided on abortion when finding out the sex of their baby, according to CBS.

Some states in India have already banned sex determination kits because of its influence in abortion rates and unbalanced gender ratios, including northern states Punjab and Haryana.

Most recently, the Himachal Pradesh government announced they would punish anyone who purchased these early gender test kits online, The Times of India published, worried that many were aborting their female babies.

Terry Carmichael, the executive vice president of Consumer Genetics Inc., which sells the “Pink or Blue” blood tests online, told CBS that his company did not test any blood samples unless the women signed a consent form that stated they would not use the results for gender selection.

The company also does not sell any kits to consumers in China or India, for the reasons above.

With much controversy surrounding these simple gender-testing kits, there’s no telling whether the new research published in JAMA affirming the accuracy of the tests may cause more harm than good.

Dawn McBane, a bioethics analyst for CitizenLink, the policy arm of Focus on the Family, told The Christian Post in an email, “We need to carefully examine the ethical implications involved with any new technology.”

“As with many prenatal tests, there are unethical uses-like abortion and gender selection-as well the possibility for ethical, life-affirming uses.”