This may not be the first time you’ve heard of the Ericsson sperm separation technique, but you can be sure it won’t be the last. The technology for choosing the sex of your child (or so its inventor claims) is available in Dallas. In fact, the Margo Perot Women’s and Children’s Building at Presbyterian Hospital is the only place in Texas where the technique is currently available.
The notion of sex selection isn’t too shocking in Texas, since many people know it has been tried as a way to produce more bulls from a herd of cattle. But now the technique for human sex selection is being marketed around the world by its inventor, Dr. Ronald Ericsson, founder of Gametrics Ltd. of Sausalito, California.
Dr. Stacy R. Stephens, a specialist in human infertility, obtained a license this summer to practice the patented process at his office in the Perot building. Since then, he says, he’s seen or talked to hundreds of healthy couples from around the Southwest who are interested in choosing the sex of their child. He reminds them, however, that the Ericsson technique has a 75 to 80 percent chance of producing boy babies. About half of the couples who inquire want a girl, he says, but the technique for that is still being developed.
The Ericsson technique is based on the fact that sperm carrying Y (male) chromosomes swim faster than sperm carrying X (female) chromosomes. To make the husband’s semen sample more rich with Y sperm, it’s diluted and deposited in a test tube on top of a viscous albumin solution, which is a component of human blood. After about an hour, the Y sperm have concentrated in the albumin, since they arrived there faster than the X sperm. The albumin is collected and further concentrated in another albumin solution. The final “washed” sperm sample is artificially inseminated into the wife, who must be ovulating at the same time. (She helps predict when she is ovulating by observing her body’s temperature variations during the previous month.) Stephens says that conception usually occurs after two tries.
Stephens says that the couples who come to see him about the technique are from all income brackets and are typically in their mid-30s. Usually, they already have one or two children and would like to determine the sex of their last child.
Although it’s logical that the technique could help reduce birth defects in unborn children or reduce the frequency of some hereditary diseases, Stephens says that it hasn’t been verified. The Ericsson process does tend to cleanse the semen sample of defective or weak sperm. (Under a microscope, it’s easy to see the sperm. Some are slow-moving or spin around like pinwheels. Others have two heads or two tails or are in the early stages of development.) Stephens does say that there’s no evidence that the procedure is harmful to developing embryos.
The Gametrics method of sex selection costs between $250 and $350, but Stephens says it’s not a service that is very profitable to his practice because it’s so time-consuming.