Is it a boy? But we want a girl!
Dr David Molloy | 2nd Oct 2012
I sympathise with the many couples which consult with me each year about the possibility of accessing sex selection for family balancing reasons. For the most part, these couples are asking for genuine and valid reasons, and I understand my patients’ desire to experience the differences, joys and difficulties of raising both boys and girls.
So why not allow Australians to get the balance right? 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 Institute outlawed sex selection for social reasons on moral and ethical grounds. Ethicists, lawyers, scientists, doctors and the community have all argued their cases for and against with varying degrees of intensity over the years, but are we getting closer to an accepting community that wants the right to choose?
I am for it. Having worked in the field of reproductive medicine helping infertile couples to conceive for more than 25 years, it is clear that many couples will try anything to help them predetermine the sex of their future child through all sorts of pre-conceptual natural remedies and methods widely publicised and available on the internet. Information about special diets, complementary medicines and the timing of intercourse all claim to offer the solution. To think that people aren’t using these methods already is naïve. Couples have used these techniques for centuries.
All of these methods are not regulated or banned by government. The only restrictions are on embryo selection using IVF - WHICH WORKS.
The risk that we face by not allowing sex selection is that couples that can’t access it here will go overseas where it’s legal, such as India or the United States. On average around a dozen or so couples I treat head overseas every year for treatment with the desire to sex select. In some countries the quality control regulations may not be as stringent as those in Australia, and in the United States, the cost of treatment at some private clinics can be upwards of US$20,000. There is also a greater risk that couples will choose to terminate a pregnancy if the fetus is not the desired sex.
The argument for allowing sex selection focuses on freedom of choice for couples. The technology is available in Australia, and is currently used for medical conditions that affect one gender, such as haemophilia and muscular dystrophy, so that only unaffected embryos will be chosen for transfer. So why not allow families who will self fund, and have the desire to even the gender playing field in their family, have the right to choose?
The case against social sex selection is more complex. The argument centres on the premise that parenthood should be based on the unconditional love and acceptance of a child for who they are. There is also concern that sex selection will lead to a bias towards one gender, such as less women and more men. This is likely to be more of an issue in Asian or Middle Eastern countries where boys are favoured over girls. In the United States, doctors estimate that 80% of couples choose girls over boys.
Then there are those that argue sex selection is a slippery slope towards ‘designer babies’. The technical term for this, eugenics, allows features such as eye colour, height and intelligence to be chosen prior to conception. I don’t think anybody who is arguing the case for sex selection is suggesting we go as far as eugenics – that is a different argument altogether. Although an event held at The Australian Forum for Live Debate last week argued the case for and against designer babies. The audience was polled prior to the debate and after, with more than 27% of the undecided audience swinging towards the pro argument by the end of the debate. Perhaps this is a conversation for me to tackle in a future post.
Many people don’t care about the sex of their children – most just want a healthy baby; there are few surprises in life and for many, this is one they are happy to accept. But most people that do care about the gender of their future baby are the ones that already have two, three or four children of one sex, and are desperate for a boy (or vice versa).
So what needs to happen for sex selection to be legalised in Australia? Demand from the community will be the clincher.
If you are like me and support the move for legalised sex selection for family balancing reasons, let us know your thoughts here. Do you or someone you know wish to choose the sex of your future children, and for what reason….family balancing?
Watch a recent episode on the SBS Insight program regarding 'Designing Babies' where Dr David Molloy was a guest.
Professor Michael Chapman adds:
"I recently appeared on Channel 7's The Morning Show to talk about the increasing number of Australian's travelling overseas for Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD); specifically to choose the sex of their baby.
Sex selection for family balancing is an option most commonly considered by Australian families who have a number of children of the same sex, rather than those trying for their first child.
As David's blog explains in more detail, in Australia, fertility clinics are tightly regulated, and National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines state that we cannot use PGD for sex selection family balancing; only for medical reasons (for example, in diagnosing conditions including haemophilia).
The key issues for families considering travelling overseas for PGD include how they will look after their other children (in most cases), and what expenses they will incur as a result.
They also need to consider how they choose their overseas fertility clinic. I would strongly advise they speak to an Australian fertility specialist first, to see if they have knowledge of the doctors and clinics overseas that offer this service.
Patients also need to consider how many patient cycles the overseas clinic undertakes in a year, and what their success rates are."
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is calling for public submissions on its draft guidelines that would potentially allow gender selection for non-medical reasons when undergoing assisted reproductive technology. Find out how to have your say on the NHMRC website »