Israeli parents-to-be can now learn the sex of their fetus on the seventh week of pregnancy, whereas in the past it was only possible to discover it after two months of pregnancy.
However the beneficial scientific advancement has many wondering whether it will also provide pretext for abortions.
The new test locates the male chromosome in the bloodstream. It was developed in order to check for genetic diseases, such as hemophilia, and was until recently used tentatively for research.
However, upon discovering that the test yields results that forecast the fetus's sex with 99% accuracy, doctors at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer began to make it available to all pregnant women.
The test is currently not covered by the HMOs, and costs $450, but Sheba is reporting a steady rise in women asking to undergo the procedure despite the lack of formal advertising.
Sheba does not track the actions of the mothers-to-be who choose to have the test, so there is no data on how many of them choose to abort their pregnancies due to unwanted results.
It is very easy to get an abortion in Israel until the 12th week of pregnancy," says a senior gynecologist who opposes making the test available to all expecting women.
"Performing the test at such an early stage opens up an immoral and unethical choice to couples interested in a baby of a specific sex to abort the pregnancy and try again."
The ethical dilemma is also keenly felt by the medical team that performs the screening, but they believe a woman's right to know her baby's sex precedes fears of a possible abortion.
"If there is medical information and a system that allows for identification of the sex at an early stage, why keep it from people interested in the results?" says Dr. Esther Guetta, who chairs the cyto-genetic unit at the hospital's Institute of Human Genetics.
"If a woman wants and can afford the test, you could say it would be unethical to prevent her from getting it."
Director of the Center for Medical Ethics in Shaare Zedek Hospital, Prof. Abraham Steinberg, agrees. "There is a debate on the question of whether it is ethically justifiable to conceal information you suspect may be used wrongly," he said.
"This is certainly a dilemma, but I believe that in this age of private autonomy, this fear is not strong enough to prevent women from knowing. We must remember that the fetus's sex is not considered a legitimate reason for an abortion, so those who want to do so will have to do it illegally."
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