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Violence against non-existent women – Ban Ki-moon says “no”

Friday, 29 February, 2008

The United Nations recently launched a multi-year campaign to combat violence against women, and the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, includes in his list of evils the act of prenatal sex selection. According to most news pages, he said the following:

Through the practice of prenatal sex selection, countless others are denied the right even to exist.

Paradox much? Mr Ki-moon, if a child doesn’t exist, how can she have any rights at all, let alone the right to exist? If we respect that non-existent children to have a right to exist, contraception and failing to have sex with a fertile member of the opposite sex would be morally reprehensible acts. It’s utterly ridiculous to give rights to hypothetical people.

It may be so that gender selection could harm (i.e. offend) currently living members of the gender selected against, or could upset society if it leads to severe gender bias, but certainly gender selection cannot harm non-existent children, because nothing can. This goes for any pre-conception genetic modification; selecting an intelligent child is not harmful to the un-enhanced children that could have existed in their place and selecting an attractive child is not violence against the hypothetical ugly children that could have existed (but didn’t).

I suspect the Secretary-General was talking about sex-specific abortion or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for sex selection, but as long as a person accepts abortion, then one already accepts that these embryos or foetuses do not yet have a ‘right to exist’. Therefore, the problem remains unchanged.

There are other problems one can raise against non-medical sex selection, but you just can’t give rights to non-existent people when it suits your argument. If we could, then my imaginary friend needs to have a right to vote and my hypothetical girlfriend needs to have the right to marry me.

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