By Karen Seidman, The Gazette January 18, 2012
MONTREAL – Say it isn’t so.
That seemed to be the reaction across the country to a suggestion in an influential Canadian medical journal that enough women here of South-East Asian origin abort unwanted girls that something ought to be done about it.
While doctors across the country questioned the validity of an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggesting doctors delay revealing a fetus’s sex until 30 weeks to prevent sex-selective abortions, the author defended his position on Tuesday and said the controversial practice is a bigger problem in Canada than people want to admit.
“The numbers may look small but they were big enough to skew some ratios – and it’s not easy to skew ratios,” said Dr. Rajendra Kale, interim editor-in-chief of CMAJ. “I’m not against educational intervention, but the thing that will put the brakes on this is this recommendation.”He based his editorial on a 2009 study by Douglas Almond, which used 2001 and 2006 census data and concluded that there is “documented evidence of a clear son preference among South-East Asian immigrants to Canada.” An earlier study by Almond about U.S. son-biased sex ratios showed that in the case of third children among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean and Asian Indian parents, if there was no previous son, sons outnumbered daughters by 50 per cent.
Kale also cited a small study in the U.S. of 65 immigrant Indian women which showed 40 per cent had terminated pregnancies with female fetuses and 89 per cent of those carrying a girl in a current pregnancy had pursued an abortion.
Kale said the overall numbers might be small, but if the phenomenon is showing up in census data, it’s not as small as people here want to believe.
“Anyone saying it doesn’t happen in Canada or happens in ridiculously low numbers is just wrong,” Kale said. “I’m convinced we need to do something.”
But both the Collège des Médecins du Québec and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada said they considered the withholding of information to be irresponsible and contrary to accepted standards.
Dr. John Bray, a local obstetrician with 31 years experience, said he can think of only one case in his practice when he was fairly certain a patient was inquiring about the sex of her fetus with a view toward abortion if it was female.
He also said that about 90 per cent of couples now request fetal sex identification for the purposes of nursery preparation and just sheer excitement, and it would be wrong to withhold information unless a serious problem with sex-selective abortion is documented.
The fact is, couples can do DNA blood testing as early as seven weeks to determine the sex of a fetus. Terry Carmichael is director of marketing for Pink or Blue, which provides early gender testing. Although the company won’t sell to India or China, Carmichael said he believes “gender selection is commonly practised in the U.S.”
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