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Determining foetal sex

Prenatal sex determination with a view to aborting female foetuses is ethically and morally abhorrent. Prohibiting sex determination by law will not, in itself, eradicate this practice but it does send a strong signal that society condemns such abortions. It is ridiculous to argue that because a law does not immediately achieve what it seeks to do, it is useless. One may as well say that since the law prohibiting murder does not prevent murder, why have it?

Does the law prohibiting sex determination make things worse for women? Here Ruth Macklin (1) treads on the quicksands of determining nuances of oppression. Her arguments that unwanted female children may be murdered; or that they may be given less food and health care; and that women who fail to bear male children will be forced to have more children than they want; or face desertion are all based on calculation of degrees of oppression; The preference for males is part of a continuum of oppression of women. This oppression has to be fought as a whole. Attempting to reduce oppression by permitting some of its forms is a myopic endeavour. Whilst one sympathises with these desperate women one cannot condone advocacy, by activists, of the practices to which they are driven.

History is full of examples of oppressed people collaborating with their oppressors in the hope of escaping or mitigating their cruelty. History also records that such hope have always proven futile.

The law prohibiting sex- determination may make things worse for some women in the short term. The long term beneficial effects for women must, surely, have greater weightage than an assumption on degrees of misery.

I hope that Macklin did not spend much time or effort in determining that the law against prenatal sex determination has not changed the preference for baby boys or enhanced the status of women. In all societies, laws are merely statements of the intentions of society. They are parts of an attempt towards a desirable situation. Laws form a part of culture and legislation against sex determination is part of an attempt at changing cultural attitues. No activist is so naive as to believe that law alone will change society.

Macklin’s concern on the limited choices of women in India and China is misplaced. Permitting sex determination and the abortin of female fetuses will only prolong the suppressin of women. We need to widen the choices available to women till they equal those available to men. This can only be done by opposing oppression at every front — political, cultural nd social – and defeating it.

The question of endangering the sex ratio is of secondary importance.Nature tends to produce an equal number of boys and girls. Tilting the ratio is evidently unjust.

Macklin examines the issue of sex determination from an extremely short-term perspective. This is an inherent limitation of the liberal humanist approach which focuses on the consequences for a few while ignoring the long term consequences for society and civilisation. Sex determination to favour baby boys is a gross example of gender injustice. Every civilised person should fight against it.

Thomas George, G9 Railway Colony Ponmalai, Trichy 620 004.


  1. Macklin Ruth: The ethics of sex selection. Medical Ethics 1995;3:61- 64.
About the Authors

Thomas George

G9 Railway Colony Ponmalai, Trichy 620 004




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