Ethics in Science: Sex-Selection in IVF

Article By: Jess Cuadro

Congratulations! It’s a boy or a girl–but you already knew that. In fact, you chose that — ‘that’ being the gender of your newborn child. Such is the apparent reality made possible by recent advances in reproductive medicine. Parents-to-be can now determine the sex of their children, and celebrity couple Chrissy Teigen and John Legend have announced last week that they have decided to have a daughter, due this spring. Teigen has since faced criticism online, with some pointing out that she could have adopted a girl instead.

There are multiple factors to consider about sex selection in in-vitro fertilization (IVF), the first being the safety of the embryo. John Robertson from the Modern Medicine Network insists that the embryo biopsy techniques to determine gender before implantation “carry intrinsic risk to the future well-being of the embryo being analyzed,” but that these risks will soon be reduced, if not eliminated.

Of equal importance and social consequence is the fact that the possibility of sex selection may encourage sex bias. Some experts do not believe that sex selection directly leads to gender discrimination and is often a result of “family balancing,” often a result of a family having two or more children of the same sex and wanting a child of a different sex. However, it must be considered that in countries where gender stereotypes are prevalent, sex selection may encourage parents to just choose the sex which they prefer for their child, thus promoting the ideology that the other sex is undesirable. Because IVF clinics are not required to report the motives of their clients, the correlation between sex selection and gender discrimination is currently unsupported by numbers, but it is not difficult to assume that while sex selection might not lead to a significant sex imbalance, it will be influenced by the mindset of societies that already struggle with gender-biased constructs.

In the Philippines, ethical guidelines prevent sex selection in IVF. Those against sex selection preach the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that “a child should not be considered as if it were a piece of property,” and believe that IVF should be for medical reasons, such as testing for sex-linked diseases, and not for promoting people’s tastes.