|Jyotika Hussain, 29, is seen playing with her daughter, Inaaya (8 months) in their Mississauga home. Jyotika wanted to find out the sex of her baby when she was pregnant to plan clothes and the nursery colours, but an ultra-sound technician either couldn't or wouldn't tell her the sex of the baby.|
Health-care workers should not reveal the sex of a fetus to parents until after 30 weeks of pregnancy to combat female feticide — the intentional abortion of female fetuses because of a preference for sons, the editor of the country’s top medical journal says.
Dr. Rajendra Kale says the problem of female feticide in Canada is relatively small compared to countries such as India and China where the practice happens “by the millions.” But, he adds, research has shown female feticide is undoubtedly happening in Canada — and therefore rules should be put in place to stop the “evil” practice.
“It is discrimination against women in its most extreme form,” says Kale, whose controversial editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal sparked swift reaction from all corners of the medical community after its release Monday.
In greater Toronto there are signs that female feticide does occur — to the point that some South Asian women claim some ultrasound technicians are already withholding the sex of a fetus.
“There is enormous evidence in Canada that a segment of the South-Asian community prefers boys over girls,” says Baldev Mutta, executive director of the Punjabi Community Health Services in Peel Region, which helps new immigrants, people with addiction issues and abused women. “There is no doubt that aborting female fetuses, because it’s a female fetus, happens in Canada too.”
Though Canada does not collect statistics based on ethnicity at birth, population statistics show the country, now home to more than a million Indo-Canadians, has a skewed gender ratio. According to the 2006 census figures, nationally there are 932 girls to 1,000 boys under age 15 in the South Asian community, compared to 953 girls to 1,000 boys in the general population.
The numbers in the South Asian community in the Toronto area are further skewed with 917 girls to 1,000 boys in the Toronto Central Metropolitan Area. Broken down further, it shows 904 girls to 1,000 boys in Mississauga, and 864 girls to 1,000 boys in Brampton.
Mutta says he has lost count of the young pregnant women who have come to the agency because they already have one or two daughters and their in-laws want them to check the gender of the fetus “…and if it’s a girl, to abort it.”
“They don’t have a choice,” says Mutta. “If they don’t do as told, they are threatened with divorce.”
To Kale, a solution to female feticide is to postpone telling women the sex of a fetus until after 30 weeks pregnancy — a point at which it is nearly impossible to have an unquestioned abortion. Currently, the sex of a fetus is usually revealed at around 18 or 19 weeks pregnancy.
He argues the rule would not impede a woman’s right to medical information about herself because finding out the sex of a fetus is not medically relevant. He also suggests the rule must apply to women of all ethnicities to prevent discrimination at the doctor’s office.
Jyotika Hussain, 29, says the proposal is not appropriate, nor is it needed.
“Twenty years ago, maybe it (the rule) would be necessary, but I don’t feel that it is necessary now,” says Hussain, who, along with her husband, is a happy parent to eight-month-old Inaaya. “My in-laws found out we were having a girl and everyone was overjoyed.
“Now, it’s not about boys or girls, it’s about having a new life.”
Hussain, who lives in Mississauga, is concerned that some health care professionals, worried about female feticide, are taking it upon themselves to limit the information pregnant South Asian women receive. She says the ultrasound technicians who examined her at 16 weeks and at 21 weeks of pregnancy either could not — or would not — tell her the sex of her fetus.
Hussain, who ended up paying $300 to have a 3-D ultrasound at a boutique clinic, says her South Asian friends with baby girls faced similar situations. There were rumours and reports, Hussain says, that ultrasound technicians in the GTA were deliberately withholding the sex of a fetus from any woman or couple who appeared South Asian.
“It’s upsetting, to be honest with you,” says Hussain, who worries Kale’s editorial will further push this kind of discrimination. “It’s a stereotype that brown people will abort a child who is not a boy.”
Besides all that, Hussain says she and many other expecting parents want to know the sex of their unborn baby to decorate the nursery and buy cute baby outfits.
Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto’s Joint Centre for Bioethics, agrees and says that many people in Canada would perceive any rule that prevents them from finding out the sex of a fetus as an erosion of one of their fundamental rights as parents.
Bowman, who says that female feticide does require a national conversation, also argues that narrowing a “30-week rule” to obstetric ultrasound doesn’t “get at the heart of the problem” because advances in medical technology mean women will soon be able to find out the sex of their fetus with a simple blood or urine test.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, or SOGC, agrees with this point. In a statement, the SOGC said Kale “fails to acknowledge the cultural values and norms that lead certain individuals to pursue pregnancy termination based on the gender of the fetus.”
The SOGC also stated that: “Providing patients with results of diagnostic imaging procedures is part of the Canadian standard of care, and fetal sex determination and disclosure should not be exempt.”
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