Some consider it medical progress, but baby gender selection in conservative Egypt has caused a stir among traditionalists who see it as an affront to ethics and have lashed out at clinics offering the service.
Ashraf Sabry, a medical doctor, has defied social opposition and uses in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology to allow the sex of unborn babies to be chosen by their parents, many of whom yearn for a son.
“Many patients already have girls and would like a child of the opposite sex,” Sabry said at his clinic in Cairo, one of about 50 in Egypt that offer the treatment.
Sometimes “families are desperate for a boy to carry the family name,” he said.
In a country where more than 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line according to World Bank figures, gender selection is out of the reach of most Egyptians. The procedure costs between US$4,000 and US$5,000.
“I am married and I am a mother to four girls,” one former patient said.
“My husband and I met with Dr Sabry and thanks to IVF we have a little boy who is now two years old,” she said.
The argument that the procedure will alter demographics has been rejected by some doctors.
“We are not changing the balance of the sexes. It is still God that decides whether the procedure succeeds or not,” Cairo gynecologist Ehab Suleiman said.
The practice has divided Muslim scholars. A leading Egyptian cleric, who asked not to be named, denied it was even possible to choose the sex of a child, saying that only God could decide the fetus’ gender.
A group of Egyptian lawmakers recently presented a draft bill to parliament aimed at managing IVF treatment and banning sex selection for convenience purposes.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which controls a fifth of Egypt’s parliament, is opposed to the practice. Akram al-Shaer, a Brotherhood parliamentarian who sits on the health committee, said the law would probably be debated in the next parliamentary session.
He said the Brotherhood supports banning gender selection.
“Involvement in this matter is unacceptable. It opens the door to corruption, no one can tell where it would lead. It could destroy society,” he said.
However, others have permitted it on grounds of necessity, and with tight restrictions.
Even within medical circles, there is hardly a consensus on the issue.
“I don’t see the point of choosing a boy or a girl if a couple has had no children before,” said Abdelshahid Azer, a physician and IVF specialist who refuses to select embryos based on their sex.
“As for children who have two or three girls or more, if this creates a problem for them they should consult a religious authority,” he said.
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