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The debate on the use of sex selection technology by IVF clinics in Australia has returned to the spotlight after the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) announced it would soon begin reviewing public submissions on its Assisted Reproductive Technology guidelines.
By
Marcia de los Santos / SBS Radio

5 Sep 2015 - 12:30 AM  UPDATED 19 Aug 2015 - 7:53 PM

Currently prospective parents in Australia are banned from selecting the sex of their babies unless there is a risk of transmitting a serious genetic condition to the offspring.

But the ban could soon be lifted if the NHMRC’s review identifies an overwhelming support for the practice.

The Chairman of the Australian Health Ethics Committee, Professor Ian Olver is overseeing the review. He says the debate over Australia's prohibition on non-medical gender selection is heating up.

"There always have been couples who want the freedom to select the choice of their child and there are some religious and cultural groups that have favoured one sex over another,” Professor Olver says.

“There are some who are concerned about the safety of the increasing trend of people who aren't allowed to do something in Australia by an absolute ban and go overseas. And then, there are some of the fertility clinics that would like to be able to offer this as well and although (the council) has its ethical guidelines, anything that makes a large amount of money, we have to be careful that we put ethical standards around it that the public finds acceptable."

"There always have been couples who want the freedom to select the choice of their child and there are some religious and cultural groups that have favoured one sex over another.”

Critics believe lifting the ban on sex selection could pave the way to other selection practices that would ultimately lead to "designer babies".

Dr Bridget Haire, from the University of New South Wales' Kirby Institute is worried about the impact on Australian society.

"The idea that you can start to commodify a child and get one that looks the way you want, that is the sex that you desire and that has particular characteristics, starts to undervalue that whole process of uncertainty and what it requires of the parent in responding to that uncertainty,” she says.

“The hopes and the fears of a pregnant woman are pretty potent and marvellous things and I guess cutting out some of the possibilities of the way that a particular baby could be, through these kinds of processes is something that I think of as being sad and potentially detrimental to society."

"The idea that you can start to commodify a child and get one that looks the way you want, that is the sex that you desire and that has particular characteristics, starts to undervalue that whole process of uncertainty and what it requires of the parent in responding to that uncertainty.” 

But Sydney University’s Professor of Health, Law and Ethics, Cameron Stewart, says there is no evidence to suggest that legalizing sex selection could hurt Australian society.

"As a general rule, we only criminalise or prohibit practices when they're shown to cause harm”, he said.

“In some countries, you might argue there's a harm in sex selection because of gender imbalance, but there's no evidence to suggest that would be a problem here. In some countries, it might be a problem because you might say there's some form of gender discrimination, but again, there's no suggestion that that would happen here.”

“Another problem with it is the general idea of bad parenting. But if bad parenting were a reason for not allowing people to have babies, there would be a lot of people who wouldn't be able to have babies. So again, it doesn't appear to be a particularly scientific view of harm."

“Another problem with it is the general idea of bad parenting. But if bad parenting were a reason for not allowing people to have babies, there would be a lot of people who wouldn't be able to have babies. So again, it doesn't appear to be a particularly scientific view of harm."

Many families in Australia have their hearts set on a particular gender, especially if they already have several children of the same sex.

That’s the case of an Australian mother who is undergoing gender selection treatment in the United States.

"It is a really strong desire for not just myself but a lot of other people to have and experience a son relationship and a daughter relationship. I really think that it's something that should be respectfully considered by people in the community. I don't want a designer baby, I just would love to have a little girl"

"It is a really strong desire for not just myself but a lot of other people to have and experience a son relationship and a daughter relationship. I really think that it's something that should be respectfully considered by people in the community. I don't want a designer baby, I just would love to have a little girl"

United States-based fertility expert Dr Daniel Potter believes the NHMRC’s review is unlikely to allow IVF clinics to offer gender selection services to prospective parents.

"It would be very hard for them to prevent people from accessing IVF services for this elective, non-essential reason and utilising the public-health system,” he says.

“It's really difficult for countries where you have nationalised health care like Australia to separate when it might or might not be essential, so it's just easier for them to ban it; if they didn't, health-care costs would go up."

The Australian Health Ethics Committee will begin reviewing public submissions on sex selection after the 17th of September.

 

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