An eight-cell grade one human embryo for IVF selection

Opinions on sex selection

Should parents be allowed to choose a child’s sex? 

Sex selection has become a hot topic for debate in recent years. The development of new reproductive technologies makes it possible for the first time to choose the sex of children. But should parents be allowed to make use of these new technologies? Under what circumstances, if any, is sex selection permissible, and who should be responsible for making this decision?

Under current regulations, sex selection is allowed for some medical reasons but is not allowed for social reasons. The following audio clips and written opinion pieces involve leading figures in the sex selection debate and will help you identify some of the key arguments.

[Note: these opinion pieces can also be used as part of our lesson idea on debating sex selection.]

Debate motion

“Parents should be allowed to use the latest reproductive technologies to choose the sex of their children.”

Opinions to consider

Dr Ellie Lee, Reader in Social Policy at the University of Kent and Director of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies

“People should have the right to choose, as parents can be trusted to make decisions about what is in the best interests of their family.”

I support the motion because I believe in freedom of choice for parents. I believe that the current regulations are too strict.

 

Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert

“If we choose our children’s sex, we will expect them to perform according to our consumer specifications, as a ‘proper’ boy or girl.”

I oppose the motion because we cannot allow sexism or consumer desires to determine who gets born. I believe that the current regulations are too lax.

 

Alan and Louise Masterton, campaigners for reproductive choice

“Reproductive choice is one of the most important rights that we have, and scare-mongering about ‘designer babies’ must not be allowed to justify interference in these choices.”

We support the motion because in the absence of harm we should respect the informed choices of mature adults. We believe that the current regulations are too strict and that they are outdated.

 

Josephine Quintavalle, Director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE)

“Parents do not have the absolute right to choose. Society’s duty to protect the interests of children and prohibit discrimination is much more important.”

I oppose the motion because all sex selection is based on discrimination. I believe that the current regulations are too lax.

 

Sara Nathan, former Member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and its Ethics and Law Committee (19982005)

“Sex selection is fine for medical reasons, but any social reasons are heavily outweighed by the discomfort, stress and resources that would be involved.”

I support sex selection for medical reasons, but for family balancing I think the risks are greater than the possible gains. I believe that the current regulations are appropriate.

 

Dr Mohammed Tarinissi, Director of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London

“All of the evidence suggests that PGD [pre-implantation genetic diagnosis] poses no health risk, but I think that it should only be used for medical reasons.” 

I support sex selection for medical reasons as medicine is all about making use of new technology to alleviate serious medical conditions. I believe that the current regulations are unnecessarily precautionary.

 

Dr Peter Mills, former Policy Manager at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)

“In the light of concerns about safety and reliability, sex selection should only be used where there is already a risk to the welfare of a child who may be born, in order to reduce the overall risk.”

I support sex selection for the avoidance of serious genetic disease, but I am opposed to using it for non-medical or ‘social’ reasons. I believe that the current regulations are appropriate, but this balance must be continually reviewed as our knowledge develops.

(Peter speaks on behalf of the HFEA. The HFEA was set up by the government to regulate fertility treatment and embryo research. You can find out more about the HFEA by referring to its frequently asked questions.)

 

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent

“The HFEA’s ban on sex selection reveals its deep distrust of parents and interferes in parents’ justifiable expectations for their children.”

I support the motion because it is not the job of the HFEA to police parents. I believe that the current regulations are too strict.

 

Dan OConnor, Head of Humanities and Social Science, Wellcome Trust and former Professor of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University, USA

“I personally side with theorists who think sex selection for social reasons places too much premium on the sex of a child. For that reason, and for the pressures that would come onto that child later in life, I do not think sex selection for social reasons – either at the IVF pre-implanation stage or the abortion stage – is ethical.”

I support sex selection for medical reasons but oppose sex selection for social reasons. I believe the current regulations are appropriate.

Credits

Project Manager: Hannah Russell

Debating Matters Competition

Project leader: Tony Gilland; researchers: Louise Ellender, James Gledhill; education consultants: Ralph Levinson (Institute of Education); David Perks (Graveney School); Joanna Williams (Canterbury Christ Church University)

Filming

Camera: Charlie Standfield; sound: Colin Crockatt; produced and directed by Alom Shaha, Resonance Productions; audio for Dan OConnor: Simon Moore

 

Lead image:

An eight-cell human embryo for IVF selection.

K Hardy/Wellcome Images CC BY NC ND

Downloadable resources

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Sex and Gender’ in October 2014.

Topics:
Cell biology, Genetics and genomics, Statistics and maths, Health, infection and disease
Issue:
Sex and Gender
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development