Anyone who has had a long-term relationship with western medicine is familiar with the ultrasound. It is perhaps one of the greatest medical tools of our time – it permits doctors to examine the soft tissues of the body harmlessly to diagnose and even treat ailments. Nearly all women in the West that have given birth have had their first views of their child on an ultrasound screen. Using sound to project a visual image is nearly magical in its practice. The fact that it can be used with no danger or harm to the patient (unlike x-rays that expose patients to radiation) make it an invaluable medical tool.
However, there is a frightening and sad side-effect to the introduction of the ultra-sound: sex-selective abortion. In countries where sons are preferred over daughters and female infanticide is a common practice, it seems natural that being able to identify the sex of your child in-utero could also give you the opportunity to terminate that pregnancy in favor of carrying a male child. Due to its highly volatile political nature, equating sex-selective abortion to female infanticide is problematic. However, the reality is that this practice has continued the disenfranchising of women in many regions of the world. The problem is so pervasive in India that is now illegal for doctors to identify the sex of a child before it is born.
This month, Scientific American highlights a new book: Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men by Mara Hvistendahl, which highlights the modern issues of gender imbalance (primarily in Asia) that has been brought about by the preference for male children at the expense of daughters (in the form of adoption, female infanticide, and sex-selective abortion). It’s an interesting topic that is just now beginning to impact the modern world.