Boy Or Girl? Could Be Your Call

Fertility researchers said Wednesday that they have come up with a new way to sort sperm that may allow couples to choose the gender of their babies. CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports.

Monique Collins had two children, both of them boys, but she had always wanted a girl.

"I was determined that I wanted pink in the house," she says. "I wanted dress up, long hair, fingernail polish and I wanted to play dolls and play house."

She tried a new technique that promised to dramatically increase her odds. A technique that led to the birth of her now 2-year-old daughter Jessica.

Sperm that produce boys contain a Y-chromosome. Girls are determined by an X-chromosome, which is a slightly bigger. It is that tiny difference that allows for gender selection.

Through a process called microsort, sperm is passed through a fluorescent dye, then illuminated by a laser. The larger X-bearing sperm contain more dye and glow brighter and can be separated from the Y-bearing sperm.

The process was first applied to avoid sex-linked diseases like hemophilia, but now is available for family balancing.

The research was developed at the Genetics & IVF Institute in Fairfax, Virginia. Dr. Susan Black, a senior physician with the institute, says that "at this point, it is limited to married couples wishing to try to have children of the opposite sex less represented in their families."

Sperm selection using a different technique has been available for several years, now in some 50 fertility clinics across the country. Success rates run at about 75 percent. The research being reported today using this new technique increases those success rates to almost 93 percent.

Success rates aside, medical ethicists question the whole idea of sex selection and point to studies that show if parents are given the choice, boys will win out.

"If you are choosing a male child, which would be the predominant choice, you are in fact saying that the characteristic of being female is second best" says Lori Knowles, a researcher with the Hastings Center, the ethics institute based in Westchester County, New York.

Ironically, this new process appears to be more efficient in producing girls. Trials are underway to create boys, and the company hasn't ruled out the possibility of one day letting parents choose the sex of their first born child.

Reported by John Roberts