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Are You Fertile?

Nov 16, 08:56 pm

     Some call it a secret mixture. Others call it a hoax. Hopeful mothers around the world are now seeking alternative methods not only to beat infertility, but to help determine the gender of the child as well. These methods, however, are nothing new. They’re based on the millennia old art of Chinese herbalism. Their degree of effectiveness can be rather surprising, depending on who you ask.

     The most daunting claim came from a Dr Lin in Monterey Park, California. He claims to practice the ancient therapy of giving his female patients a child of the desired gender. And he boasts an 85% success rate. If you take into account that half of those women would have produced that gender child to begin with, his success rate drops to 70%, still a formidable rate when you consider the magnitude of the feat: Dr Lin claims to be able to change a zygote seeded with an XX sperm into a male child and vice-versa. All you need to do is take his secret potion within weeks of conception. The herbs create a certain environment, Lin says, that is conducive to developing a certain gender. I wanted a second opinion.

     “Be wary of those claims,” Dr Li of Tarzana warned over the phone. I told him, falsely, that my wife and I were planning on having a baby. It was done in the name of journalistic integrity. Did he know of any special herbs my purported wife could take so we could be sure our child would be a boy?

     “Come to my office. I’ll see what I can do.”

     Perhaps claims like this originated in China. With the one-child limit in force, giving birth to a girl can be a family tragedy. A farmer needs a boy to help with the heavy labor, or face losing his land altogether. Some baby girls are killed, some abandoned and some left to starve to death in orphanages.

     Dr Zhang Shuyun fled China last year after an unsuccessful campaign to expose abuses at the Shanghai Children’s Welfare Institute. Shuyun snuck out medical records showing that healthy infants admitted to the institution often died of severe malnutrition weeks or months later. The records show inappropriate switching of medication, the untreated onset of severe malnutrition and blatant medical neglect of life-threatening infections.

     Ai Ming also left China last year. An abandoned child, he spent 20 years at the Shanghai orphanage. In 1992 he secretly photographed the emaciated bodies of dead or dying children allegedly chosen for “summary resolution,” or death, by staff members seeking to reduce the orphan population.

     “The brutal treatment of orphans in Shanghai, which included deliberate starvation, torture and sexual assault, continued over a period of many years and led to the unnatural deaths of well over 1,000 children between 1986 and 1992 alone,” the Human Rights Watch announced. Most of these abandoned children are girls. The rest are either born in violation of the one-child policy or were physically or mentally handicapped.

     On the surface, using an herbal infusion to ensure one sex over the other would certainly seem like a good alternative to aborting “wrong-sex” fetuses. But the risks of changing the sex of a fetus must be considered. Could we create feminine boys? Or girls who feel like boys trapped in female bodies?


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