An Australian government body has just released its first major update of guidelines for assisted reproductive technology in 10 years. The most controversial decision by the Australian Health Ethics Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council was to continue a ban on sex-selection by IVF clinics. It says that “AHEC does not endorse, or wish to perpetuate, gender stereotyping or cultural or personal biases based on biological sex”. Therefor the current policy will remain in place: “admission to life should not be conditional upon a child being a particular sex”.
It appears that almost no one in the IVF industry is happy with this outcome. Doctors claim that there is considerable demand from couples for sex-selection for “family balancing”. Associate Professor Mark Bowman, of Genea, a major chain of clinics, responded that “individual Australians’ personal freedom to make informed reproductive choices is arbitrarily restricted.”
The vice president of the Fertility Society of Australia, Prof Michael Chapman, told The Guardian Australia that every week he had a patient who expressed a strong desire to “gender balance” their family. Some were so distressed they required psychiatric care.
“The conservatives ultimately won,” Chapman said. “There is a significant minority of the Australian population, particularly women in their reproductive years, who would accept the concept of gender balancing. Those couples will be continued to be forced to go overseas to clinics that are not as of high standard as those in Australia.”
“We will be seeking legal advice,” said fertility specialist David Molloy, a former head of the Australian Medical Association in Queensland. “This is a farce and the council has left doctors unsure of their rights.” Since sex-selection is not actually illegal in his state, he says that he will defy the guidelines and offer sex-selection for family balancing.
However, one bioethicist contended that selection on the basis of sex was troubling because it assumes that
“there are two types of children, boys and girls, they have essentially different personalities and traits and offer significantly different parental experiences. Allowing sex selection for social reasons would send out a message that it is acceptable to create children to fit preconceived binary gender roles.”
Tereza Hendl, of the University of Sydney, said that sex selection would ultimately curb a child’s options for behaving in gender nonconforming ways.
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