Sex selection: On sale here

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky April 24, 2008
Biopolitical Times

At some point I apparently signed up for email alerts from Genetics IVF, the assisted reproduction company that markets sex selection via the sperm-sorting technique called MicroSort. A few days ago one showed up in my inbox, with some good news, some bad news, and a sales pitch.

There's a temporary problem, the email said. MicroSort sex selection has been taking place under the auspices of a clinical trial, and the study has now concluded. So for the time being, there will be no more MicroSort.

But rest assured. Because GIVF cares so much about allowing its customers to specify a boy or a girl, it's offering a discount on sex selection using another technique: PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or embryo screening). In fact, it's offering PGD sex selection for the same low price that it charged for MicroSort sex selection.

Bracketing the sketchy ethics of sex selection by any method, what kind of deal is this? PGD requires IVF, with its hormone-altering drugs, invasive procedures, and hefty costs. Sperm sorting can be accomplished without any of that.

GIVF's website lists the cost of a sperm sort as $3400; other fees can bring the price of the procedure up to $6000. By contrast, PGD goes for $5000; a no-frills IVF cycle adds $8900, for a total close to $14,000. The bottom line: Sex selection using sperm-sorting brings in 5 or 6 grand for the company; PGD puts 14 grand in its coffers.

GIVF is looking for customers, as businesses must. Right now it needs to find people willing to do and pay whatever it takes to get that son or daughter. From a marketing perspective, who should it target?

According to a new analysis of data on Chinese, Korean and Asian-Indian families in the US from the 2000 census, the odds of having a boy increase if the family already has a daughter or two. I doubt it's coincidental that GIVF's email includes a photo, shown here, of two young girls who appear to be Asian.

Typically, advertising depicts the product on sale; fertility company ads usually show lots of babies. But these girls are older. Could it be that GIVF is showing its potential customers not the "products" it offers, but reasons to purchase its sex-selection services?