Gender Selection and Prenatal Genetic Testing

There is no prenatal genetic test for autism; there has been speculation that, as research into the genetics of autism develops, such a test might be created. Back in June of 2006, a team of doctors at University College Hospital in London—in view of the fact that autism is diagnosed in boys at a much higher rate than in girls—announced that they hoped to develop a test to screen for autism in male embryos for couples with a family history of autism. The test would use Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), which screens embryos by taking a single cell from an early stage embryo; embryos with defective genes are discarded.

But how reliable are genetic and other prenatal tests for gender? Today’s Eye on DNA offers a thoughtful overview of the reliability of gender test kits (that cost $300 and even less) that analyze a mother’s blood for fetal DNA; Dr. Hsien Hsien Lei offers some tips for choosing a reputable genetic testing company and quotes William Saletan in Slate:

Notice how the new transforms the old. What’s old is sex selection: choosing whether to abort your fetus based on whether it’s a boy or a girl. What’s new is the combination of ease, safety, and privacy with which you can now do this deed.

And what’s necessary is to get out the message that life with an autistic child (with mine, at any rate) might just be too good to miss out on.

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    • mayfly

      Life with any child may be too good to miss out on, autistic or not.

    • retiredwaif

      Thank you for that last sentence. Just… wow. Thank you. Awesome.

    • Jill

      I think that it is great you really enjoy life with autism but personally, I would rather live without. I hope that the cause(s) of autism are found as soon as possible. I worry every day what will happen to my children if I were to pass away. There is no one to care for them and they will have to spend the rest of their lives with people I have never met (if they are lucky – it could be worse – prison or homeless) and they are unable to defend themselves if they get abused. My kids and I have participated in AGRE research and will soon be participating in OSU genetics research as well. My life was wonderful before they were born and now I am merely existing. I don’t want to see any other person fall into this fate. No more traveling, no more reading for the pure joy of it, my career is over and I now work part-time just to make ends meet because of childcare problems. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some nice moments, but the bad ones outweigh the good ones almost every day. I just try my best to forget the bad ones and live off the good ones. Just another reason why I am pro-choice.

    • Kristina Chew, PhD

      I just can’t imagine my son not having autism—I do think he was always the way he is, in reflecting on his babyhood and even my pregnancy. I’m very interested in genetics research too, in no small part because of the connections between Charlie and me, and Charlie and my husband, and both of our families, it reveals.

      I guess I’ve wondered, had Charlie not been autistic—who knows what else could have happened? His life-choices are much more limited, but there are some things—-drugs for instance—-that he’s very protected from.

      We decided only to have Charlie in part because I needed, and wanted, to work, and teaching at a college gives me a lot more flexibility in my work hours (and a lot more stress trying to balance working and “everything else”). And we looked at ourselves and said, yes, it’s likely we’ll have another child with “something”—”at least” (I say that tongue in cheek) with ADD or ADHD or learning disabilities.

      And it’s true, I worry and wonder a lot at the great unknown if I’m not here—-I try to focus on the moment and do what I can in the time I have.

    • Jill

      I understand everything you are saying. It may not sound like it from my comments but many people would describe me as an optimistic person. Seriously. I just have moments in my life where I reflect where I was and where I am going now. I also had a bad moment in a store today in which a grumpy old man asked me why I didn’t leave my kids at home where they belong. What was really awful was that my kids were not that bad – trust me – I have had really bad moments in a store – e.g. when my oldest thought it would be fun to smash the eggs on the floor. I came very close to telling the man that they have autism – what is your excuse you senile old git. Fortunately, I had read a saying the other day that kept me from lashing out.

      “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

      Regarding the future, I think I will hit the “hold” button and keep it blinking in the back of my brain while focusing on the moment.

    • Kristina Chew, PhD

      I’ve got the future button on “pause,” too—-though Charlie has a dark shadow on his upper lip already…. Thank you for that saying, I need it!

      Going to stores used to be more “interesting” for us—fingers in the frosting and several hasty exits out the automatic doors.

    • mayfly

      I too wish my my daughter were rid of her autism. She is low-functioning and I worry about her future. However she is an absolute joy me.

      Measured against an NT child her accomplishments are limited, but when they happen they are celebrated. Just last week she became fascinated by her reflection. She’ll be 11 this May.

      At one time every day my arms were covered with streams of blood from her scratching, and the biting was worse, should she be able to connect. Now she greets me with smiles.

      Her latest thing is dropping silverware on the kitchen floor to hear it ring. It can drive me up the wall. But she isn’t throwing it wildly with great force any more.

      Do you have any support? We found a church with programs for special needs children. My daughter was accepted there; whereas, a couple of community-based programs could not handle her.

      I also have a wonderful wife and we can buoy each other during the rough times. Since you used I, I am guessing you are are doing this as a single-mother. If so, I can fully appreciate the extra weight that puts on you.

      Autism can indeed be a terrible thing. I cannot see how it’s done anything, but harm my daughter. I
      can imagine her without autism. I
      cannot imagine life without her.

      Keep showing your child the love it needs, and you’ll be rewarded with smiles which will brighten your gloomiest day.

    • RAJ

      Talk of genetic testing for ‘autism’ is an interesting topic that has received media attention, but the attention is given to the polygenic theorists who control the agenda for research into causes of autism.

      The same true believers have yet to identify a single ‘gene’ that causes autism. The data published by the Autism Genome Consortium is misleading since the ‘genes’ that autism genes that they have identified since they started the project are not specific to autism.

      The same ‘autism’ genes they offer genetic testing for, are genes found in other neurosychiatric conditions without autism and primarily mental retardation. The phenotype is mental retardation, not autism.

      It’s like offering a gene test for congenital Republicanism.

    • Kristina Chew, PhD

      Your comment is especially interesting in light of the discussion here about mental retardation—what is it that we’re looking for?