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Australian IVF experts propose allowing gender selection

1 August 2016
Appeared in BioNews 862

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.

These demands are under consideration by a committee which has been reviewing Australian assisted reproduction laws since 2013. The committee, which is formed of members of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, has been urged by experts in the fertility industry to allow parents to 'balance' families with boys and girls.

The committee chairman, Dr Ian Olver, said that they would not endorse gender selection bias for cultural or racial reasons. 'We wouldn’t want to promote any gender bias so that people select the sex of their first child,' Dr Olver said. He added that the review was considering strong opinions on both sides, and was focused on 'the wellbeing of the child and how that child is valued.' 

The committee is expected to finish its recommendations this year. When finalised, the recommendations will be reviewed by the Australian Health Ethics Committee.

Gender selection is not allowed in Australia today except under compelling medical reasons, such as if a serious genetic disease that only affects one gender runs in the family.

Professor Michael Chapman, President of the Fertility Society of Australia, defended the idea of controlled gender selection, arguing that it would only affect a very small number of people, as most parents who use IVF services do not wish to choose the sex of their children.

Professor Chapman also argued that gender selection is already widely available in Asia and the US, causing Australian families to go overseas in order to choose the gender of their future children. 'Clinicians are seeing requests like this probably once a month and we know there are significant numbers of couples spending many tens of thousands of dollars overseas in sometimes not the most reputable units.'

Supporters of the proposal to legalise gender selection also suggest that this option may reduce the number of women who choose to terminate their pregnancy based on gender preferences.

Others have expressed concern about the legalisation of any form of gender selection that is not made on weighty medical grounds. The president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Michael Gannon, said gender selection was 'not appropriate use of medical science'. The Australian Christian Lobby also opposed the suggestion, comparing it to abortion.

Professor Steve Robson, President-elect of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the issue should not be decided by IVF specialists, but by the wider public.

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