Cat got your tongue?
Aug 6th 2011 | from the print edition
Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. By Mara Hvistendahl. Public Affairs; 314 pages; $26.99 and £17.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk
《非自然选择：选男不选女和世界挤满男人的后果》。马拉•赫弗斯坦托尔（Mara Hvistendahl）。公共事务出版社; 共314页; 价格为$ 26.99美元和17.99英镑。可从Amazon.com和Amazon.co.uk网站购买。
AS HE walked into the maternity ward of Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan Hospital in Delhi on his first day at work in 1978, Puneet Bedi, a medical student, saw a cat bound past him “with a bloody blob dangling from its mouth.” “What was that thing—wet with blood, mangled, about the size of Bedi’s fist?” he remembers thinking. “Before long it struck him. Near the bed, in a tray normally reserved for disposing of used instruments, lay a fetus of five or six months, soaking in a pool of blood…He told a nurse, then a doctor, I saw a cat eat a fetus. Nobody on duty seemed concerned, however.” Mara Hvistendahl, a writer at Science magazine, is profoundly concerned, both about the fact that abortion was treated so casually, and the reason. “Why had the fetus not been disposed of more carefully? A nurse’s explanation came out cold. “Because it was a girl.”
1978年，普尼特•贝迪（Puneet Bedi）还是名医学院学生，当他上班第一天走进德里人民领导杰布里卡什•纳拉扬医院的产科病房时，看见一只猫 “嘴里叼着一个血淋淋东西”快速经过他身边跑掉了。“那是什么东西---湿淋淋，血肉模糊的，大约贝迪的拳头大小？”他想着记起来了。“不久，他被震惊了。看到床边通常留着为清理使用过的手术工具的一个托盘里放着一个五六个月的胎儿，浸泡在血液里……他先告诉护士，然后医生，‘我看到了猫正在吃胎儿’。然而，值班的人似乎并不关心。”《科学杂志》的作家马拉•赫弗斯坦托尔（Mara Hvistendahl）既深刻地关注着随便对待堕胎的事实，也深刻关注堕胎的理由。“为什么胎儿不能小心地处理呢？护士冷冷地解释到，‘因为那是个女孩。’”
Sex-selective abortion is one of the largest, least noticed disasters in the world. Though concentrated in China and India, it is practised in rich and poor countries and in Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim societies alike. Because of males’ greater vulnerability to childhood disease, nature ensures that 105 boys are born for every 100 girls, so the sexes will be equal at marriageable age. Yet China’s sex ratio is 120 boys per 100 girls; India’s is 109 to 100.
The usual view of why this should be stresses traditional “son preference” in South and East Asia. Families wanted a son to bear the family name, to inherit property and to carry out funerary duties. Ms Hvistendahl has little truck with this account, which fails to explain why some of the richest, most outward-looking parts of India and China have the most skewed sex ratios. According to her account, sex-selection technologies were invented in the West, adopted there as a population-control measure and exported to East Asia by Western aid donors and American military officials.
The ultrasound and other technologies that identify the sex of a fetus started out as diagnostic devices to help people with sex-linked diseases, such as haemophilia, conceive healthy children. They were greeted rapturously in America in the 1960s. “Ultrasound Device Takes Guessing Out of Pregnancy” ran one headline. “Control of Life: Audacious Experiments Promise Decades of Added Life” ran another.
But 1960s America was also a period of growing concern (hysteria, even) about population in developing countries. Policymakers, demographers and military men all thought rapid population growth was the biggest single threat to mankind and that drastic measures would be needed to rein it in. One such figure was Paul Ehrlich, whose book, “The Population Bomb”, became a bestseller in 1968. Mr Ehrlich pointed out that some Indian and Chinese parents would go on having daughter after daughter until the longed-for son arrived. If, he argued, they could be guaranteed a son right away, those preliminary daughters would not be born, and population growth would be lower. Sex selection became a tool in a wider battle to stop “overpopulation”.
But how did an obsession of Western policymakers turn into the widespread practice of destroying female fetuses in Asia? Partly, argues Ms Hvistendahl, through aid. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations gave over $3m to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the 1960s, helping it to pioneer India’s first amniocentesis tests, initially for genetic abnormalities and later for identifying fetal sex. India at that time was the World Bank’s biggest client, and the bank made loans for health projects conditional on population control.
No less important, American military officers helped make abortion the population control tool of choice in those Asian countries where they wielded influence, first in Japan in the late 1940s and 1950s, then South Korea in the 1960s. USAID, America’s aid agency, provided Jeeps for mobile clinics which roamed South Korea performing abortions. At one point, a quarter of the country’s health budget was going on population control and the number of abortions hit an all-time record in Seoul, where, in 1977, there were 2.75 abortions for every live birth. “What would have happened if the government hadn’t allowed for such easy abortion?” asks one sociologist. “I don’t think sex-selective abortion would have become so popular.”
Ms Hvistendahl is convincing in telling the little-known story of how Westerners helped create the conditions under which sex selection began in Asia. But her emphasis on the West’s role is less sure an explanation for the practice’s spread throughout China and India. China’s coercive population-control policies were developed in the late 1970s, at the end of the Cultural Revolution and the early reforms of Deng Xiaoping. This was a period of isolation and modest opening-up, when China was not much interested in Western advice. The available records are scanty so it is hard to be sure, but the influence of Westerners on the one-child policy seems modest. Westerners had more clout in India, but it turns out some of them used it against, rather than for, sex selection. One (Indian) doctor from AIIMS, arguing in favour of sex-selective abortions, concedes that “this may not be acceptable to persons in the West…” Oh.
Ms Hvistendahl’s history is marred by the occasional lapses into self-righteousness and polemic. She says others who have written about sex-selection technology have not been critical enough “because blaming backward cultural traditions is simpler.” She dismisses a World Bank report that said South Korean actions to combat sex selection had worked, as “flat-out wrong”, apparently because it would let the bank off the hook for previous support of population control. She calls Western population policies a “plot”.
Still, the merits of her book outweigh such flaws. Ms Hvistendahl’s distinctive contribution is twofold. She provides a history of the modern practice of sex-selective abortion, based on new and detailed research, and she helps readers think about its possible consequences. Most of them look grim. America’s violent Wild West, she points out, had a huge preponderance of men. Excess males in central and southern China also contributed to the Taiping rebellion of 1850-64, one of the bloodiest civil wars in history.
Sex selection, Ms Hvistendahl says, still does not get its proper attention. Female genital mutilation is all over the websites of UNICEF and the World Health Organisation. Sex selection, in contrast, hardly gets a mention. One hopes her book will help the subject get its due.
赫弗斯坦托尔女士（Ms Hvistendahl）表示， 性别选择仍然得不到应有的重视。联合国儿童基金会和世界卫生组织的网站上到处都是毁坏女性外阴的信息。相反，性别选择几乎不值得一提。谁都希望她的书将有助于这个主题得到应有的承认。