New test reveals fetus’ sex as early as 7 weeks

A new, highly accurate, blood test can determine a baby’s sex as early as 7 weeks into the pregnancy. Experts say that it could lead to more widespread use -- parents worried about gender-linked diseases, the curious and people contemplating selecting their children’s sex.

The test, which analyses fetal DNA found in the mother’s blood, is noninvasive, unlike amniocentesis and other procedures that carry risks of miscarriage. The news was published online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Other tests have been available to consumers in pharmacies and online for a few years, but they saw limited use because their accuracy was unclear. European doctors now routinely use tests to help expectant parents whose offspring are at risk for rare gender-linked disorders. However, US doctors generally have not prescribed the tests because they are unregulated and medical labs are not yet federally certified to use them.

The new study could change that, as well as other aspects of the pregnancy landscape. Women may abort fetuses of an undesired sex. A recent study of third pregnancies in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis found that in some Asian-American groups, more boys than girls are born in ratios that are “strongly suggesting prenatal sex selection,” the authors said. The tests analyse a blood sample from the mother, searching for the fetus’ DNA.  

Bioethicist Arthur Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania, said:

“Few will argue that finding out early in a pregnancy if a male fetus has a fatal form of muscular dystrophy or Rett Syndrome -- a nervous disorder that causes males to die in utero -- would be beneficial to many families. But outside of that kind of testing, everything about the early testing of fetal genes for sex identification spells ethical trouble. And, as the techniques for the analysis of fetal DNA become more and more accurate and affordable, it is likely to reshape the debate over abortion.” ~ New York Times, Aug 10; MSNBC, Aug 9

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