Wed, Jan 11, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Gender imbalance invites scrutiny

By Chiang Sheng 江盛

A little over half a year ago, the Bureau of Health Promotion (BHP) announced out of the blue that the gender imbalance among babies born in Taiwan indicates that more than 3,000 fetuses are aborted each year just because they are female. BHP Director-General Chiou Shu-ti (邱淑媞) said the bureau was not equipped to investigate the matter, but she warned that prosecutors would be asked to investigate doctors suspected of practicing sex selection.

Chiou warned that doctors and women involved in such cases could be charged with illegal abortion. She also talked about “judicial abortion,” saying the Genetic Health Act (優生保健法) shielded abortionists through its provisions that allow abortion in case of rape or for medical or psychological reasons.

Chiou seemed to be accusing the Department of Health (DOH) of failing to find even one doctor who had carried out a sex selective abortion. Her comments attracted a lot of media exposure, but they also showed that she is an out-of-touch anti-abortionist with outdated personal ethics.

Unfortunately, the DOH has now announced that physicians are not allowed to reveal the sex of fetuses. This measure is meant to prevent selective abortions, but it is an impractical bureaucratic directive that has been formulated without consulting experts. It is an example of governance via illusory morals and shows that bureaucrats, while failing to grasp the true reason for the imbalance between male and female births, seek to tarnish the reputation of all women who need abortions, and of the doctors who assist them.

Statistics reveal a gender imbalance among babies born in Taiwan, but there are various possible reasons for it, including the long-term effects of pollutants, such as chemical plasticizers, environmental hormones and the growth hormones given to livestock. Another possible cause is the widespread problem of infertility. Infertile couples often turn to medical practitioners to assist them through artificial reproduction. If social and cultural factors lead infertile couples to use technology to select their preferred gender, be it male or female, modern scientific techniques make it quite a simple task to fulfill their wishes.

Statistics for test-tube babies conceived at the Reproductive Center at Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital show that male fetuses outnumber female no matter whether they are implanted at the embryonic cleavage stage or at the blastocyst stage. Figures from the hospital show that among the more than 500 test-tube babies created there between 2002 and 2007, of the 118 fetuses transferred at the cleavage stage 71 were male and 47 female, while of the 355 fetuses transferred at the blastocyst stage 190 were male and 165 female.

Lee Maw-sheng (李茂盛), former chairperson of the Taiwan Society for Reproductive Medicine, said that males outnumber females by about three-to-two among the nearly 1,000 test-tube babies transferred during the blastocyst stage at his clinic.

It is estimated that more than 3,000 babies are born using artificial reproduction each year in Taiwan. It would be a good idea for the DOH and BHP to analyze these figures before jumping to conclusions and banning doctors from telling pregnant women the sex of their babies. At present there is no conclusive research to prove Taiwan’s gender imbalance results from aborting female fetuses, so there’s no reason for the BHP and DOH to repeat each other’s arbitrary statements or to hurriedly issue poorly thought out directives.

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