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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Choosing Pink or Blue From God's Catalog

September 20, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

A fertility clinic in Virginia last week made a big announcement. The institute presented evidence that it is now equipped to offer prospective parents an 85% chance of guaranteeing their baby will be a girl.

It is the closest we have come so far to a scientific miracle that in the future will enable couples to choose the sex of a child in advance.

You want a daughter?

Hey, no problem.

Step 1: A doctor treats daddy's sperm with a DNA-staining chemical.

Step 2: A laser illuminates the sperm, one by one.

Step 3: A female-producing sperm outshines the other sperm. (No surprise to this reporter.)

Step 4: A machine separates the bright sperm from the dim sperm.

Step 5: Mom and Pop go home and put pink drapes in the nursery.

Because the son won't be coming out.

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By the early 21st century, they say parents will be able to custom-order the sex of their baby as easily as pulling up to a drive-thru window and choosing between the Quarter Pounder and the Filet-O-Fish.

No more surprises.

No more: "It's a boy!"

A mother and father will be able to sit down and pick out a baby's sex the way they used to pick out a baby's name. A man who desperately wants to add "& Son" to the family business can finally do something about it. He can do more than simply say a prayer or go walking along the beach by himself, singing that "My Boy Bill" song from the musical "Carousel."

If his wife agrees, bingo.

"Doc," he'll be able to say, holding his spouse's hand, "we've decided to go with the dim sperm."

Imagine the possibilities.

During particularly slow weeks, clinics could offer discounts on babies that are lagging behind on sales. They could even advertise. You know. Daughters the usual $3,995 plus tax, but "all our sons marked down to a low, low unbelievable price of only $1,995 during our fantastic February Buy-a-Boy Days!"

Once upon a time, a couple couldn't even tell which gender their baby would be. Not until ultrasound came along--or, as I like to think of ultrasound, Prenatal Nickelodeon.

That's when doctors began spoiling the suspense, asking parents that ever-popular question, "So would you like to know whether it's a boy or a girl?"

No, I'd just like to know if when the kid is 6, will he or she clean up his or her room?

I thought this ultrasound thing really ruined the fun, as if Monty Hall were letting contestants know in advance what was behind Curtain No. 1 and Curtain No. 2.

But this latest development is a lot better than ultrasound. It makes ultrasound as obsolete as Pac-Man. I won't need a doctor to look inside a woman's tummy anymore to tell me if it's a boy or a girl. No, because I will have already placed my order in advance.

It's like God offering a catalog.

According to the Genetics and IVF Institute of Fairfax, Va., all they have to do is zap a little fluorescent dye onto the sperm and watch it say howdy to the DNA. (I'm paraphrasing here.)

In one series of tests, 14 couples set out to have girls--and 13 got their wish.

(The 14th couple is apparently stuck with a confused kid who can't understand why he has to live in a pink room.)

As of yet, no tests have been run for couples deliberately attempting to have a boy. Preliminary results "suggest male selection will work 65% of the time," reports Time magazine.

I don't much like those odds.

Guaranteeing a girl is easier to do, for the moment. But I figure by the year 2005, or 2010 latest, we will be able to get assurance that a baby will be a boy. Some scientist will inject that fluorescent dye into a chromosome that will force a baby to grow up and scratch himself in public and smoke cigars.

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When a baby is born, it doesn't matter which sex it is, as long as it's healthy and doesn't spit up on me. A kid's a kid.

A mother once mentioned that her baby looked exactly like Winston Churchill. "Madam," Churchill told her, "all babies look like me."

I will miss the mystery of not knowing what sex a child will be, once mothers and fathers begin picking out boys or girls like Beanie Babies.

With my luck, I'll order a girl, and a doctor will tell me, "Sorry, we're sold out."

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or phone (213) 237-7366.

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