The days of using ultrasound to find out a baby's gender for entertainment or a keepsake video should end, says a joint policy statement released this month by Canada's pregnancy specialists and radiologists.
Underlying that recommendation is that female feticide -- the abortion of a female fetus because she is not male -- is happening in Canada and must be stopped.
The joint policy statement, released this month by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) and the Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR), said ultrasounds should only be used if there is a medical reason for the scan.
'We don't do lengthy ultrasounds at all, and we don't reveal gender until 17 weeks. We're very, very, very firm on the 17 weeks'
"The fetus should not be exposed to ultrasound for commercial and entertainment purposes and it could be considered unethical to perform these scans," it stated.
The SOGC and CAR said it was necessary to issue a new joint policy statement after "recent media coverage of non-medical clinics performing gender determination in the first trimester."
In Manitoba, an abortion can be performed at up to 16 weeks of gestation. In rare cases, it can be done at 17 weeks or later.
Chandra Malegus, who owns Babymoon Ultrasound, said her company provides a non-diagnostic service offering photos and a DVD and allows friends and family to attend the procedure to share in the experience.
"We don't do lengthy ultrasounds at all, and we don't reveal gender until 17 weeks," Malegus said, referring to the second trimester. "We're very, very, very firm on the 17 weeks. Younger than that, it's easy to get it (the gender) wrong. But the other part is we want enough time so that baby is safe. We don't want anybody making decisions based on gender."
The joint policy statement noted "fetal ultrasound is a valuable tool in modern obstetrical care," as the imaging technique uses sound waves to monitor the baby's growth and development if performed by properly trained individuals in a carefully monitored and medically supervised environment."
A spokeswoman for Manitoba Health said regional health authorities "do not perform ultrasounds as keepsakes, but rather to ensure and monitor the health of the fetus."
"It should be noted keepsake ultrasound clinics do not have physicians on staff and are not accredited by the CPSM (the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba) since they do not perform diagnostic ultrasound," the spokeswoman said.
Concerns raised in the policy statement are non-medical ultrasounds could subject the fetus to "targeted energy exposure" for long periods of time to get video. While it stated there is no definitive proof diagnostic ultrasound can have harmful effects -- the machines emit high-frequency, low-energy sound waves -- it cautioned use of the ultrasound for non-medical reasons is an unapproved use of a medical device under Health Canada's guidelines.
"Of particular concern are recent studies in animal models that report subtle effects on the physiology and development of the fetal brain," the joint policy statement said.
Malegus said 10 to 20 minutes is the maximum amount of time expectant moms are exposed to the ultrasound procedure, similar to the medical ultrasound.
"It doesn't replace a medical (ultrasound) and that's not what we're there for," Malegus said. "The medical procedure is not there to promote bonding, there's no bonding at the hospital (during an ultrasound) whatsoever and that's where we come in.
"It's not just Mom and Dad that come in, it's their (other) children, their parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, whoever they want to involve in this life event."
An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in January 2012 stated "Research in Canada has found the strongest evidence of fetal sex selection among some Canadians of Asian descent, including people from India, China, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines."
The CMAJ editorial said a possible solution is for information on the gender of a fetus to be withheld until after 30 weeks when "an unquestioned abortion is all but impossible." The editorial noted the gender of a baby is "medically irrelevant information, except when dealing with gender-related illnesses."