For some parents, the issue of their child’s gender is a small one. Happy and healthy are the first boxes to be ticked, and anything else is a bonus.
For other couples, particularly those who have already had a few children of one gender, the need to add a perfect little girl or boy to their families is a strong one. But how can they do it?
Gender Selection Science
It is entirely possible, using IVF fertility treatments, to choose the gender of the baby you have implanted. This process is called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis. Although it makes gender sound like an illness, it’s actually the most often used method of selecting the gender of your future children.
The process of PGD is quite straight forward. A woman has a number of eggs removed, and these eggs are fertilised in a lab setting with her partner’s sperm. These eggs are grown into embryos, which are then tested to find out the genetic makeup of each embryo so that a number of the same gender can be implanted back. PGD has almost 100% accuracy in choosing the preferred gender of a child, and can also screen for a number of genetic diseases including Huntington’s, Downs Syndrome and more.
Where Is It Legal?
In the end, there’s only one major problem in this foolproof method of gender selection.
It’s illegal in Australia.
Well, it’s mostly illegal. If you’re suffering from a genetic disease, or have a family history of one, PGD is often used to screen for those diseases. Gender selection may be allowed in cases where those diseases have a very high chance of appearing in one gender over another.
However, the fact that gender selection isn’t allowed in Australia, doesn’t mean that couples aren’t managing to get it done. Families with enough capital and drive travel to countries like Thailand and the United States where gender selection is not limited. Here they can choose the gender of their baby, get the embryos implanted, and head on home with a gendered bun in the oven.
Why Do People Want It?
There are a few different reasons that people might want gender selection. One reason that we’ve already looked into is to avoid certain genetic conditions. Diseases that, in the past, may have significantly hindered and limited a child can be screened for, to ensure the healthiest embryo, often of a specific gender, can be implanted.
Another reason is for family balance. That is, if parents already have three boys, they might be desperate to have a daughter. Of course, their chances with traditional methods are only 50/50, so why not even out the odds? The concept of family balance is often heavily driven by the idea of ‘one of each’. That is, many couples have a preference to just have two children, and it makes sense in that instance to have a boy and a girl. Again, the odds may not be in their favour, so they opt for gender selection.
The final reason that couples may opt for gender selection is preference. Imagine for example that you already have daughters, and you love raising them so much you want another. You’re worried that having a boy might upset the balance, so you opt for gender selection. Or, you may be a parent who doesn’t feel confident in raising a particular gender, so you choose gender selection to avoid the issue altogether.
What Are The Concerns?
As with reasons, there are a few concerns related to gender selection. The first, and really the big picture concern, is demographic. If people were allowed to choose the gender of their baby, how would we maintain a gender balance in our society? This is already a problem in India and China, where boys are favoured over girls. This has seen the balance of boys to girls tip, leaving many young men alone as there simply aren’t enough female partners.
On an individual level there’s the problem of stereotyping. Usually having a baby leaves gender to chance, and as such parents may be more flexible as to their child’s understanding of that gender. But imagine if you’ve paid thousands of dollars to have a little princess in your life, only to end up with a tomboy? Or what if your husband ached for a footy buddy, only to end up with a sensitive boy with no interest in sports? Gender selection can put a lot of pressure on the child as they grow up, especially if they don’t fit into the box their parents have set out for them.
So, Will It Ever Be Legal Here?
It’s unlikely that gender selection will ever be legal in Australia. Looking at both the big and small picture, there are simply too many issues related to the practice. There is also a lot of push against gender selection as many see it as the beginning of designer babies, a trend that is highly likely to do more harm than good.
Now, don’t get us wrong. The power of PGD technology to prevent children from suffering from genetic diseases is wonderful, and we applaud it. But there is a difference between saving a child from a disease, and living a gendered parenting dream.