The LA Times reports that DNA tests marketed for sex identification of fetuses in early pregnancy are being promoted with unsubstantiated claims: “The Federal Trade Commission, which protects consumers from false and misleading advertising, has warned buyers to be skeptical of at-home genetic tests, which are now unregulated.” But from the story’s reporting, the FTC has reason to do more than warn. More than 100 women have sued one company, Acu-Gen. “Acu-Gen's website lists dozens of clinical studies that it says corroborate its approach, though none of them involved the specific DNA sequence that Acu-Gen says it uses in Baby Gender Mentor and none reported accuracy as high as 99.9%.”
The companies may be relying both on probability – as one disappointed father says, you could flip a coin and refund the money every time you were wrong and still make money on a sex identification test – and on parents’ feelings of guilt in the case of a wrong prediction. It’s hard enough for people to admit they’ve been duped by scientific flimflam. Revisiting a desire for a child of a different sex may be especially psychologically difficult when an actual child is already present. These are exactly the vulnerable consumers that government regulators are best suited to protect – especially given that competitors have little incentive to question the scientific basis of their shared industry. In the consumer/competitor/regulator triangle, the regulator here is the obvious choice to rein in invalid claims.
Of course, that people who use the tests may be considering sex selective abortions adds a significant wrinkle: regulating for false advertising, rather than banning the practice entirely, may be part of the cultural acceptance of the desire to actively select a child’s sex, as this Slate piece suggests.