Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Advanced Search

Search for

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook



Australia ART guidelines oppose baby sex selection

24 April 2017

By Dr Jane Currie

Appeared in BioNews 897

Australia has maintained a ban on sex selection for non-medical reasons in revised guidelines on assisted reproductive technologies (ART), published this month.

After two rounds of public consultation, the Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) concluded in its updated guidance that 'sex selection (by whatever means) must not be undertaken except to reduce the risk of transmission of a serious genetic condition'.

The authors at the AHEC acknowledge that this is a complex issue. Summarising the consultation findings, they cite some arguments supporting non-medical sex selection. These include the potential for smaller families, avoiding patients seeking sex selection overseas, and respect for patient autonomy and reproductive choice.

Arguments cited against sex selection include a desire to reduce the risks of discriminatory attitudes and inequality, and 'slippery slope' concerns about selection based on other attributes such as hair colour in the future.

Overall the AHEC felt that the risks to equality of permitting non-medical sex selection currently outweigh the benefits: 'AHEC does not endorse, or wish to perpetuate, gender stereotyping or cultural or personal biases based on biological sex, therefore the 2017 ART guidelines do not support the use of sex selection techniques for non-medical purposes.'

Dr Mark Bowman, a fertility specialist from the University of Sydney, spoke to 9News about his support for sex selection: 'Sex selection, particularly for the purposes of family balancing, can be consistent with the responsible exercise of reproductive choice and the formation of a family.'

In contrast, Dr Tereza Hendl, a bioethicist from the University of Sydney, supported the ban. She told 9News that allowing it for social reasons would send the message that it is acceptable to create children to fit preconceived 'binary gender roles'.

The document leaves the door open for further discussion of this issue: 'AHEC recognises that many of the issues surrounding ART are as much social and political as they are ethical, and that further public debate is required.'

Professor Ian Olver, chair of the AHEC, told 9News that the guidelines reflect the 'tremendous diversity' in the conversation on the issue. Recommending further public debate, Prof Olver said that the 'AHEC agreed that Australian society needs to [be] ready both socially and politically'.

The AHEC notes in its new document that legislation passed by individual states or territories within Australia could override the guidelines. Currently, only the states of Victoria and Western Australia have their own legislation on the issue, which prohibit non-medical sex selection.

The previous ART guidance was published in 2007. Both sets of guidelines were published by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government | 20 April 2017
National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government | 20 April 2017
Sydney Morning Herald | 20 April 2017
AAP | 20 April 2017
National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government | 20 April 2017


08 May 2017 - by Dr Jane Williams 
Australia's key body for medical research released a new set of ethical guidelines last month on the use of Assisted Reproduction Technologies with a welcome and unusual surprise: a section on conflicts of interest...

01 August 2016 - by Lone Hørlyck 
Australian IVF clinics are calling for parents to be permitted to choose the sex of their third child if they already have two children of the same gender...
07 September 2015 - by Dr Melanie Levy and Professor Vardit Ravitsky 
Switzerland upholds stricter legislation on assisted reproduction and prenatal genetic testing than most European countries. However, recent regulatory changes demonstrate a possible shift towards a more liberal approach....
23 March 2015 - by Sophie McLachlan 
The nutrient-filled liquid used to grow embryos during IVF might affect the resulting male to female birth ratio, a study suggests...
28 October 2013 - by María Victoria Rivas Llanos 
Sex selection in IVF as a method of avoiding autism has been approved for the first time by health authorities in Western Australia...

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust


Public Conference
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation