Once again about the legitimacy of gender selection in IVF

Once again the topic of gender selection during the IVF has been risen. After one of the Spanish clinics started collecting signatures for the lifting of the ban on gender selection, and the doctor in Belgium was arrested for “planning” sex of the baby, people began to discuss moral and ethical sides of the issue at once in several countries. Thus, at a medical conference on bioethics in London professor Stephen Wilkinson said that the University of Lancaster had studied moral and ethical aspects of the issue of prenatal sex selection while using assisted reproductive technologies (ART). According to him, there is no reason to expect harm to unborn children, or society in general, found if the methods of sex selection, that are available during the procedure of in vitro fertilization.

Let me remind you that it’s the pre-implantation diagnostic (PGD), that allows to examine the material obtained in the presence of the defective gene, and incidentally to determine the gender of the fetus and with the highest likelihood. So, if we consider the laws of different countries of the world, they can be divided into 3 groups. In the first (like Austria, Vietnam, South Korea, Switzerland, New Zealand), pre-implantation diagnostic is totally prohibited, even if there are serious medical reasons.


In most countries where ART are regulated by law, PGD is allowed, but the gender selection is permitted only for medical reasons, if there is a threat to pass a baby a serious hereditary disease. To conduct PGD for other reasons in these countries is prohibited (by the way, Russia is also in that list). Especially severe punishments for violation of this law are provided in Asia (China, India), where there is a large number of selective abortions.

As for the PGD, permitted for sex selection, there are many clinics, for example, in the U.S., that can legally offer you this procedure. Of course, this immediately led to "the reproductive" tourism: couples from those countries where this technique is prohibited, particularly from the UK, went to the U.S. for gender selection.

It's interesting that this topic is being discussed particularly actively in the UK. The main argument of supporters of prohibition is that it will lead to gender imbalance in society, which will be the result of mass treatment for future parents planning sex of the child. Supporters of making gender selection permitted claim that sex selection can’t become a mass procedure because of its high cost. Also, it is considered that the amount of couples in Europe willing to have a girl is approximately the same as those who wish a boy.

Yes, obviously there is pretty equal amount of “boy-wishing” and “girl-wishing” future parents. However, we should not forget that today, for example, in the UK,  there is a significant part of citizens with Indian and Pakistani origins, who will give preference to boys, which will probably enhance sexist attitudes in these subpopulations. That’s why, despite the many debates, the Committee on Science and Technology of the House of Commons has decided to leave the current law, which allows to conduct PGD, but only on medical prescription geneticist.

I absolutely agree with this position: there is no need to cause debates about the "discrimination" during the IVF, exactly as there is not point to install a complete ban on the PGD usage: diagnostics help to avoid the birth of children with serious genetic defects.