BY AKIKO OKAZAKI STAFF WRITER
A growing number of married Japanese couples are paying big bucks in Thailand to ensure their baby is the sex they want.
In the past year, at least 30 married couples have traveled to the country for gender selection, which requires the diagnosis of fertilized eggs, according to a survey by The Asahi Shimbun.
In Japan, diagnoses of fertilized eggs are allowed only for serious genetic diseases or possible miscarriages, on the grounds that it could lead to selective breeding.
According to Thai brokers, they communicate with their Japanese customers through e-mail messages and meet them when they come to Thailand. Many of these married couples have already had two or more male children and are wanting a female child.
The cost for the diagnosis is about 1.5 million yen ($19,600). The brokers report that the number of customers is increasing, and since summer, they have been receiving requests from seven or eight couples a month.
A clinic in Bangkok said, "In addition to Japanese, we have many customers from China and India. Almost all of our customers from those countries are hoping for male children."
Thailand, which has been improving its medical technology, is becoming advanced in the medical treatment field and is enjoying a growing popularity among overseas patients. About 15 medical institutions are conducting diagnoses of fertilized eggs.
The Asahi Shimbun interviewed two medical institutions that are often used by Japanese couples. There, they found that Japanese couples have been increasing over the past two or three years, with about 30 couples undergoing diagnoses of fertilized eggs during the past year for gender selection.
Originally, diagnosis of fertilized eggs was conducted to see whether the babies that will be born are suffering from genetic diseases. After an in vitro fertilized egg divides into four or eight cells, one or two of them are removed to see whether there are abnormal genes or chromosomes.
When doctors diagnose the fertilized egg, however, they can also see whether the baby will be male or female.
The diagnosis requires in vitro fertilization. Therefore, even married couples who are not infertile are offering their sperm and eggs for in vitro fertilization.
According to the Thai royal society of obstetrics and gynecology, diagnosis of fertilized eggs is conducted about 600 times a year in Thailand. Of those, about 60 to 70 percent are used for gender selection.
According to the society's guidelines, diagnosis of fertilized eggs is not allowed except for the checking of genetic diseases. However, the society's guidelines are not binding on doctors, and there is no punishment mandated even if they break them. Therefore, the diagnoses are used widely for gender selection.
In Germany, diagnosis of fertilized eggs is prohibited on the grounds that it could lead to selective breeding and the concept of eugenics. In particular, the diagnosis has many ethical concerns in the case of gender selection because the fertilized eggs are abandoned when the sexes of the children are not what the parents want.
Many of the countries that allow the diagnosis of fertilized eggs for genetic diseases do not do so for gender selection.
In Japan, the necessity of diagnosis of fertilized eggs is individually examined only for serious genetic diseases or possible miscarriages under the guidelines of the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Those genetic diseases include muscular dystrophy.
Since 2004, only about 200 cases have been approved at 11 facilities, including Keio University and Nagoya City University.