We live in a world full of choices today, thanks in part to the advancement of technology and the evolution of mindsets and melding of cultures.

Will it be nasi lemak or granola for breakfast? PC or Mac? Buy or rent? Terminate this pregnancy, or give up college?

Evidently, some choices are more difficult to make than others. Very rarely do choices come in black or white, and sometimes, even the grey ones aren’t all that great either.

And as if that’s not enough, science gives you choices such as this.

At first, it may be to avoid having a child with Down Syndrome or hemophilia. But being human, we tend to exploit. And being Chinese, we will most definitely do so.

In Malaysia, there is still a lingering cloud that hangs over every Chinese mother-to-be, and it is a cloud noone likes to acknowledge: the stigma of not having any sons. Even the most liberal, open-minded, educated women in our country are faced with this old-fashioned view on reproduction for the purpose of lineage: the need to have someone carry on the good family name.

When you announce the good news that you’re expecting, and if you’re at the appropriate stage, one of the first questions people ask is: boy or girl? If the lady is sure it is a son, she will most definitely announce it proudly, knowing full well that ultrasounds are not 100% accurate, but you’d rather believe the doctor is rarely wrong.

If the doctor says he or she isn’t sure (and from experience, this usually indicates after four or five visits, it will most likely be a daughter), the lady will tell the inquirer that she isn’t sure. Adversely, if she has dealt with the fact that she WILL well have a daughter, come what may, the mother-to-be will slip in a very casual “…but I think most likely it will be a girl…”.

The conversation will turn slightly awkward when that happens, either because the lady thinks that the inquirer will, out of slightly embarassed sympathy, say things like, “Oh, but can try again next time!” or “Aiya, better to have a daughter these dayslah!”. Or because the lady feels a little sorry for herself even though she knows it’s horseshit. Sometimes, the inquirer will launch into a series of after-the-fact suggestions, such as “Aiya, you didn’t tell your husband to drink lots of coffee and eat steak before doing it ah?” or “You must make sure you do it like on the first day of ovulation! Boy sperm swim faster than girl sperm!” or “You never check the Chinese calendar meh?”

All the unmentioned sympathies of the misfortune of getting a daughter will continue to be unmentioned because both asker and askee are already aware of it, even though they know it shouldn’t even be an issue. The doctors know it. Even though somewhere in the world, we STILL insist upon it. It is like interracial marriages and premarital pregnancy and being gay: all the good, old-fashioned Asian taboos we are all taught never to commit the day we understand the words ‘honour’ and ‘family name’, even as we hurtle along in the 21st century.

Is it, then, not unreasonable to expect a couple to go to the extreme of genetic selection to avoid all this melodrama? And if we have the means to pay our way to having children through IVF, why not take it a step further, and choose exactly what kind of baby we want? It seems like a natural (or rather, unnatural) extension.

Yes, we live in a world full of choices today. It is making the RIGHT ones that’s the trick. And when traditions (and in some cases, even with the intervention of government policy) such as the persistence to have sons refuse to die, allowing science to intervene will make it an even bigger tragedy than it already is.