Until now, the only reliable method to find out a baby's sex earlier during pregnancy was an amniocentesis, a procedure that carries risks, including risk of miscarriage. According to researchers, maternal blood tests could also reveal a baby's gender, allowing families with a history of genetic disorders that affect only a certain sex to gain valuable information earlier on, without the risks of amniocentesis.
Dr Diana Bianchi of Tufts University School of Medicine, who was part of the study team, pointed out: "[The test] could reduce the number of invasive procedures that are being performed for specific genetic conditions." She was talking about genetic disorders that mainly affect boys. If a mother would find out that she is pregnant with a girl, it would not be necessary to move forward with more invasive procedures, like amniocentesis, to find out whether the baby has the genetic disorder. The new test works by detecting signs of male chromosome that would point to the mother being pregnant with a boy, available from the first trimester of pregnancy.
Some European countries already offer this method, which is referred to as cell-free fetal DNA. But in the United States, it is not available yet. Although the test could be extremely valuable for families looking for information about their baby's sex for the purposes of knowing whether or not their baby could carry a certain genetic disorder, there are also ethical concerns about this blood test. The worry is that the blood test has the potential of being used so that parents could terminate their pregnancy if the baby has the undesired gender, which unfortunately almost always applies to girls in that context. Some countries, like India, have ended up with many more boys than girls being born for this very reason. The obvious answer to this problem would be offering the test only to families who have a history of genetic disorders or are otherwise at risk of them.