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Australia ART guidelines oppose baby sex selection

24 April 2017
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.

Full report: Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research, 2017.
National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government |  20 April 2017
Media release: Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research, 2017.
National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government |  20 April 2017
National guidelines oppose push to allow parents to choose sex of IVF babies
Sydney Morning Herald |  20 April 2017
Regulatory ban on sex selection remains
AAP |  20 April 2017
Summary of the major revisions to the current guidelines
National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government |  20 April 2017
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