By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(June 20, 2008) Parents using in vitro fertilization methods to conceive children in New Zealand may soon be given the right to choose the sex of their babies.
This is the recommendation being made by New Zealand’s Bioethics Council in a paper submitted to the government this week entitled, “Who Gets Born?” In it, the Council recommends that the gender of embryos created outside the mother’s body under programs such as IVF should be chosen by parents, allowing them to gender balance their families.
The selection process would be performed by a method called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), where embryos are tested for a variety of traits before being implanted in a woman’s uterus. PGD is already being used to help families avoid having children who would suffer from painful, disabling or fatal conditions.
“Because they’ve had a son or a daughter who’s been killed in an accident and would like another son or daughter, we think that’s a good reason to allow this,” said Dr Martin Wilkinson, Bioethics Council chairman, told New Zealand’s TVNZ. “We don’t think there’s a good reason on the other side.”
Critics say sex selection is not only unethical and dangerous, but flies in the face of decades of action to end discrimination based on gender.
Professor Donald Evans, a leading ethicist and director of Otago University’s Bioethics Centre, said that allowing social grounds for the sex selection of embryos during fertility treatment would be “winding the social clock back in New Zealand by at least a generation and a half.”
He added: “There have been huge battles fought in New Zealand for gender equality – that is, refusing to value or disvalue a life in terms merely of its gender. Huge victories have been won.”
More than 700 people who contributed to the Bioethics Council’s deliberations – which covered pre-birth tests and living with disabling conditions – called for limits on the use of PGD, like the ban on non-medical sex selection, and that they be reviewed regularly.
“So I’m very puzzled that the report says there is insufficient cultural, ethical or spiritual reason to prohibit this, when certainly New Zealand has been moving absolutely in the opposite direction for a generation and a half,” Evans said.
Another critic of the plan is the Catholic Church which has denounced embryo sex selection as pursuing “designer babies.”
“From a Catholic perspective, all embryos are equal and deserve unconditional respect,” said Dr. Michael McCabe, spokesman for the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre.
“Our role, as parents, is to welcome our children in an unconditional way. The proper role of pre-birth testing is to help the parents to prepare the best way they can for their new child or to enable medical interventions that are aimed at the well being of the child in-utero, not to eliminate certain types of children.”
Under laws introduced in 2004, sex selection is banned in New Zealand except where it is part of treatment for a genetic disorder or disease. It is banned or limited in many other countries, but is allowed in the United States.
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