As the fall semester draws to a close, many seniors are thinking about jobs after graduation. But senior Gina Campelia is thinking about babies.

Campelia is working on an honors project which examines the ethics of infant sex selection?a phenomenon recently made possible through advances in biotechnology.

After taking a bioethics class in high school, Campelia knew it was something she was interested in. Her first year at Bowdoin, Campelia consulted a biology professor on the best route to pursuing a career in bioethics. The professor directed Campelia to another student who had self-designed a major in bioethics, which provided Campelia with a model for her own bioethics major.

"It's mostly philosophy, but there's a lot of biology included," says Campelia.

Since Campelia's major crosses department lines, she has two advisors for her project: Associate Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies Lawrence Simon and Professor of Biology William Steinhart. Campelia works with each professor on alternate weeks. Although the bulk of her project will focus on the moral dilemmas of sex selection, Campelia will also outline the biological aspects of the topic.

Over the summer Campelia was searching for a current bioethical issue for the project and noticed that a technology known as Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) was making the news for its ability to prevent certain types of cancer. However, PGD can also be used for sex selection, which has major medical and social implications.

Although Campelia is still wrestling with her research and has not yet come to any solid conclusions, she does have some opinions based on her preliminary observations.

"Personally I feel that sex selection for the purpose of medical reasons, where it's trying to prevent genetic disorders that are sex-linked from being passed on...that seems to me to be morally permissible," says Campelia, "The problem to me is: Is it OK to choose a certain sex just because you want that as the child?"

However, Campelia points out that sex selection could create population imbalances. Countries like China and India, where social attitudes coupled with sex selection could lead to a seriously skewed population ratio, are working to pass legislation against the use of PGD.

"The legislation in the U.S. hasn't caught up with the technology yet. In India and China there's such a huge fear of a population imbalance that they really are moving forward with the legislation against it," explains Campelia. "In the U.S. and the U.K. there's a debate about it in academic circles, but it really hasn't hit the table for legislation."

Another concern surrounding PGD stems from the destruction of embryos that it necessitates. The process typically requires eight embryos, which are genetically analyzed to determine sex. Then the selected embryo gets implanted and the others must be destroyed unless the parents choose to freeze them for future use. Current legislation in the United States prohibits the use of embryos for research purposes.

Sperm sorting offers an alternate option that does not involve the destruction of embryos for parents seeking to conceive a child of a certain sex. This process involves separating the sperm based on the sex each sperm dictates and only using the sperm which will generate the desired sex. Neither PGD nor sperm sorting have any known negative physical side effects, but PGD produces virtually infallible results, whereas sperm sorting is slightly less reliable (90 percent accuracy rate for females, 75 percent for males). However, PGD is much more expensive and invasive than sperm sorting, so sorting is a more plausible route for most interested parties.

Campelia plans to critically analyze these technologies through a philosophical lens.

"I'm trying to figure out if there is anything else intrinsically wrong with choosing a female over a male child, for example, just in that choice," she says.

Campelia's project will help to prepare her for further academic and career-related pursuits. Grappling with difficult moral questions will soon be a way of life for Campelia: After Bowdoin she plans to pursue a doctorate in philosophy and a masters degree in public health.