37 years ago today, the world’s first “test-tube baby”, Louise Brown, was born. Today, in vitro fertilisation has become a common occurrence for couples who have trouble conceiving. Perhaps your children have even used IVF to help them produce your grandchildren?
How would you feel, then, if your child and partner told you they were going to select only male embryos, or all female ones, to be implanted? Would you think that was ethical?
As it stands, IVF doctors have the ability to tell parents whether fertilised embryos are male or female but the issue of whether they should tell parents is controversial.
If selection is designed to prevent gender-specific diseases such as haemophilia, which occurs mostly in males, then most people would agree that gender selection is okay. Hence the reason, in Australia, doctors are only allowed to tell parents the sex of their embryos for medical reasons.
But what if parents only want boys or girls to avoid “gender disappointment”? Some call it family balancing, others might call it sexism.
“When you just have preference for one sex over the other, you’re kind of a sexist, as a parent,” says Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “That seems unacceptable”.
“But the motive [with family balancing] is almost the opposite — it’s to try to experience parenting both genders,” Caplan said. “I think that probably would pass ethical muster because it’s really trying to respect and celebrate both genders”.
Of course, one of the biggest concerns is that sex selection could lead to people requesting other traits in their children, such as eye colour, height or intelligence.
A significant number of Australian couples travel to the US or other countries where gender selection is allowed, and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council has opened up the debate on whether gender selection should be allowed.
Let’s talk: What do you think? Should parents having IVF be allowed to choose the gender of the embryos that are implanted?