Gender selection: Is it a boy? But we want a girl!

| August 6, 2013

Sex selection for social reasons is illegal in Australia on moral and ethical grounds. Professor Michael Chapman, a fertility specialist with IVFAustralia, argues that the issue of sex selection for gender balance needs to be addressed.

Many people don’t care about the sex of their children; they simply want to give birth to a healthy baby or babies. With few genuine surprises in life, for the vast majority of people this is one they are more than happy to accept, just as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge did recently with their first child, George.

However, I would estimate that I see around two couples a month in my clinics who ask about the possibility of accessing sex selection. In my experience, this is not so that they can choose the gender of their first child, but more for gender balancing where a couple already have a child/children of one sex.

These couples approach me and ask about sex selection for genuine and valid reasons, and I understand their desire to experience the differences, joys and difficulties of raising both boys and girls.

In a recent survey I carried out involving 150 women accessing antenatal care at a private hospital in Sydney, I found that 87% of women were opposed to sex selection for a first child, but only 50% were opposed when a couple already had one child or more of the same sex. A similar study on infertility patients wielded the same results.

The debate around whether sex selection for social reasons should be legalised in Australia has been on the agenda since 2004, when the National Health and Medical Research Council outlawed sex selection for social reasons on moral and ethical grounds.

I believe that the main reason why people oppose sex selection for non-medical reasons is a fear that the same serious gender distortions seen in Asian countries such as China and India will occur here in Australia. But this is unfounded. The evidence from Western countries where sex selection for non-medical reasons is legal shows gender choice is equal.

The issue of sex selection for gender balancing really needs to be addressed, because my concern is that as technology becomes increasingly advanced, people will use ‘back doors’ to access the treatment they desire.

These ‘back doors’ leave patients with difficult decisions, including how they will fund and choose an overseas fertility clinic which may not be as tightly regulated as those here. My advice to people in this situation is that they should talk to an Australian fertility specialist first, to see if they have knowledge of the doctors and clinics overseas offering this service. Patients should also consider the number of cycles an overseas clinic undertakes, and what their success rates are.

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