States could shut down proposal for parents to choose baby's sex

Issues about balancing patient care with profits have kept simmering.
Issues about balancing patient care with profits have kept simmering. 

Even if an Australian medical panel recommends parents get the power to choose a baby's sex for family balancing, the proposal still faces a national ethics board and could be shut down by the states.

A National Health and Medical Research Council committee that has been reviewing assisted reproductive technology laws since 2013, is expected to finalise its recommendations within weeks.

But the recommendations are still subject to change, may not be made public until next year, and must be signed off by the council and the Australian Health Ethics Committee, which will consider them next month.

IVF clinics have made submissions to the review arguing for families that already have at least two children of the same sex to be able to choose the sex of the third. Currently gender selection is only allowed in Australia on medical grounds to avoid a serious genetic condition.

"We're not talking about picking the sex of the first child or the second child ... that's not part of what we set out to get the public's opinion on," said Professor Ian Olver​, the chair of the review panel. 

"I don't think as an ethics committee anyone wants to promote any sort of gender biasing."

He would not say whether the panel had backed the proposal.

The power to choose a baby's sex for family balancing is already widely available overseas and Australians are heading to the US and Asia for access, Fertility Society of Australia president Michael Chapman said.

"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," he said.

Advertisement

Mother Jayne Corwill wrote in November 2014 of how she'd spent $50,000 and travelled 13,000 kilometres to make sure her fourth child was a girl.

Professor Olver said the review had focused on "the wellbeing of the child and how that child is valued".

"We've had strong opinions on both sides and that's what we're weighing up at the moment," he said.

The panel"s recommendations will be considered by the Australian Health Ethics Committee in August and must then be approved by the NHMRC. 

Dr David Molloy, the director of Queensland Fertility Group, who wrote a submission in support of the proposal said it would not affect the makeup of the community.

"It's ethical and its much better than some of the alternatives, which include for example cases of termination of pregnancy," he said  "Patients are now in a position at 10 weeks of pregnancy of accurately knowing the genders of their babies."

The Australian Christian Lobby wrote a submission strongly opposing all forms of non-medical gender selection, which it compared to abortion. 

President-elect of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Steve Robson, said the issue should be decided by the community, rather than the IVF specialists.

An earlier version of this story referred to Dr Robson as president of RANZCOG, he commences in the role in November.