At the beginning of this year, San Jose Mercury news had an interesting article that caught my eye. The article talked about how Asian immigrants in California are using medical technology to the fullest extent possible to satisfy an age old desire of having a male offspring instead of a female offspring.
As we know from movies like Karuthamma and in parts of rural South India, especially villages in and around Theni etc. there is still the practise of killing a female newborn or even a woman aborting her fetus if she has already had several female offsprings etc. But, it is indeed surprising to know that Asian immigrants (includes Chinese and Indian) here in California are stretching medical technology to new boundaries that provide prospective parents with the promise of a son. Of course, female infanticide almost never happens here, but according to the article there are some couples who have manipulated the natural odds of having a son or a daughter.
Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, medical director of the Fertility Institutes of Los Angeles who was interviewed for the article, says that his office uses what is known as PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) a technique where fertilized embryos whose sex is identified after a few cell divisions is then implanted. He claims that a majority of his clients are ethnic couples of the Chinese and Indian community who are willing to pay upto $20,000 for every attempt to have a boy.
Click graph to see enlarged image
Source: Jason Abrevaya, University of Texas, California Dept. of Public Health
The article then delvs into how having a son has become such an important aspect for Asian immigrants. Apparently, the preference for a male offspring in China goes back to some 2,000 years ago with economic and social roots, tradition etc. Amongst Indians, there is a strong belief that only a son can perform a father's last rites and is expected to financially and physically support his parents in their old age (though that is rapidly changing now in India, but still is an unspoken expectation). Also, some South Asian couples opened up saying that having a boy is a "status symbol" for several Indian women, even if they lived in the US, as they felt more acceptance with their in-laws. And, this thinking has now extended to many Asian immigrants even in the US. The worry is that as PGD becomes more affordable, more people are going to use it to ensure that they have a son. An analysis done by a University of Texas economist estimates that between 1991 and 2004 there were 2,000 "missing girl babies" among Chinese and Indian couples living in US- girls never born because their parents chose to have sons instead.
Can you imagine how much of a problem that would pose in the future?
A survey done indicated that most Asians weren't too concerned about the first child, but the bias towards a son became more pronounced for a second baby, especially if they knew it was a girl.
But, as long as there are immigrant couples who have set thoughts stuck in their heads based on cultural factors, there is going to be a huge business opportunity for doctors like Steinberg and others who have understood this and are willing to provide the services to bring more male babies into this world.