When parents select baby's sex
Stephanie Blows with Lucinda, Annabelle and Samantha. Photo: Jacky Ghossein
PARENTS should be able to choose the sex of any babies after their first child to ''gender balance'' their family, says a leading Sydney obstetrician.
The head of women's and children's health at the University of NSW, Professor Michael Chapman, says Australians are more concerned about achieving a desired ratio of girls to boys in their families than wanting first-born sons.
''In this country it's more about gender balance than selecting the sex of one child,'' he said.
To forestall moves towards ''designer babies'', the federal government in 2005 banned parents from selecting the sex of their embryos via IVF.
Professor Chapman said before the ban, less than 5 per cent of IVF patients asked to choose their baby's sex. Of those who did, there was an equal preference for boys and girls.
To circumvent the ban some parents now travel to clinics in the US or Thailand for embryo selection.
Professor Chapman believes parents who have at least one child should be allowed to select the sex of future children to achieve their desired boy/girl ratio.
''I certainly see patients who have had three boys who would only have a child in the future if they knew it would be a girl - and vice versa,'' he said. ''In the profession's view there should be sex selection for those parents that want to balance the family.'' Though this this would be difficult to police, he said.
The president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Rupert Sherwood, does not support Professor Chapman's suggestion. ''That's taking science and using it in a social sense,'' he said. ''The 2005 ruling is a good one.''
The Australian Families Association is also opposed to any change.
''You start by allowing parents to select the sex of their children, the question is: what's next? Screening for eye colour, for intelligence?'' said a spokesman, Tim Cannon. ''You'd have to be incredibly naive to think that would be the end of the matter.''
An IVF specialist, Alison Gee, said there was a demand for embryo sex selection in Australia.
Six years on from the ban, Dr Gee said there should be a community debate about whether it was worth keeping. ''It would be nice to make clear whether the community desires the ban,'' she said.
The National Health and Medical Research Council is due to review the ban soon.
The European Union recently debated banning doctors from telling parents the sex of their unborn babies to stop sex selection abortions, which were on the rise in some former Soviet Union states.
About half of expectant parents in Australia choose to find out the sex of their unborn child, normally detected at the 18-week ultrasound. Usually it is out of curiosity, or the practicalities of planning a nursery.
Parents who have at least one child are more likely to want to know the sex of their next baby.
For parents who do not want to wait until 18 weeks to find out the sex of their child, there are commercial tests available that claim to be able to detect the sex of the foetus as early as seven weeks by testing the mother's urine or blood. But doctors warn the tests are not scientifically proven or reliable.
A Lane Cove mother, Stephanie Blows, 35, and her husband decided not to find out the sex of any of their three children before they were born. ''For all of them we just liked the surprise and the anticipation and the waiting,'' Ms Blows said.
She also felt it was a message to society that they truly did not care about the sex of their baby. ''There was definitely an element of everyone saying, 'You've had two girls, don't you want a boy?' When you say, 'we don't mind and we haven't even found out,' that says it all, really.''
While she was ''tempted'' to find out the sex of baby number three, Ms Blows's husband convinced her to keep it a surprise. ''I am really happy with three girls,'' she said.