Boy or girl? Don’t reveal until 30 weeks pregnant, editorial says

Physicians should avoid telling pregnant women the sex of their unborn child until after about 30 weeks of pregnancy, because some women will abort female fetuses if they know, according to an editorial in the Canadian Medical Assn. Journal.

A small percentage of parents in immigrant Asian communities in Canada may use knowledge of their unborn fetus’s sex to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy, according to an editorial by the journal’s interim editor in chief, Dr. Rajendra Kale.

Though the number of sex-discriminating abortions may be relatively small, Kale pointed out, it occurs in North America “in numbers large enough to distort the male-to-female ratio in some ethnic groups.”

The editorial comes at a time when more information about a child’s gender is available to parents even earlier in pregnancy. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that a baby’s sex can be determined by 7 weeks’ gestation just by sampling DNA fragments from the fetus that end up floating around in the mother’s blood.

That said, it appears to already have been a recognized issue among Canadian physicians, according to a 2008 story by Karen Kaplan on the vagaries of do-it-yourself genetic testing.

“Though incorrect results are usually revealed during routine ultrasound exams, fear of gender selection prevents many Canadian doctors from revealing a baby’s sex,” Kaplan writes.

But, according to a statement by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, “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. Therefore, the SOGC believes it is the right of the patient to be informed of the gender of their fetus, and that this information should not be withheld.”

Kale argues that postponing the big reveal until 30 weeks would still leave parents enough time to outfit their nursery rooms. And, he adds in his editorial, “the issue is about discrimination of women in its most extreme form. This evil devalues women.”

Think the CMAJ editorial is on point or not? Post your thoughts below.

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