A Question of Balance/Putting a Price on Gender

Jodi McMahon is the perfect poster girl for sex selection.

She’d always wanted that special bond between a mother and a daughter.

Instead, she ended up with seven boys.

Last night, 60 Minutes followed her journey from country NSW to the U.S., where gender selection is legal.

Now, Jodi and Andrew are the proud parents of a bouncing baby girl.

Like a Hollywood movie, this story has a happy ending.

But real life isn’t like the movies.

The wider issue of gender selection poses philosophical, moral and ethical dilemmas.

Does the practice put a price on gender?

Will girls become further devalued?

And could we return to the dark days of eugenics?

The statistics seem to support people like the McMahons.

After seven years of sex selection in U.S. fertility clinics, there’s no evidence of an imbalance.

During the five years in which it was legal in Australia, only a couple of hundred babies were born.

The gender mix was relatively even.

Then the Australian Health Ethics Committee decided it was “not in the community’s best interests”.

The National Health and Medical Research Council maintains it could lead to the “commodification of children”.

IVF clinics argue on the grounds of parents’ reproductive rights; opponents are concerned about the children’s rights.

“The whole guidelines are based on the interests of the child being paramount. A subsection of that, in terms of sex selection, is we believe a child is entitled to come into this world without anyone deciding the sex ahead of time,” Dr. Kerry Breen from the Ethics Committee told the ABC’s 730 Report.

In certain cases, Australian parents are allowed to choose the sex of their child to avoid passing on a genetic disease.

This is done by pre-implantation genetic diagnosis – creating embryos outside the womb.

But the Committee worries about parents discarding embryos they don’t want, in the ultimate form of sex discrimination.

The same technology used to balance one family could lead to a greater imbalance for other families.

China’s People’s Daily newspaper reports 117.78 boys were born to every 100 girls last year.

By 2020 there’ll be 24 million more men than women of “marriageable age”.

The traditional preference for sons, coupled with the one-child policy, has led to a tsunami of abortions.

This is genocide by gender.

At the moment, it’s illegal.

Imagine how much worse it could be if sex selection was made easier?

Some say it would reduce the number of backyard abortions and infanticide.

But I believe it would legitimise a cultural belief which has led to the deaths of 37 million Chinese girls since 1980.

Around the world, the U.N. estimates 200 million girls are “missing”.

This ‘gendercide’ is explored in a soon-to-be-released documentary, called “The Three Deadliest Words in the World: It’s a Girl”.

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While the gender imbalance has stabilised in China, it’s growing in India.

Despite a ban on ultrasounds for the purpose of determining sex, census results reveal 914 girls are born for every 1000 boys – the biggest gap since record keeping began in 1947.

In much of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, boys are prized because they can inherit property, carry on the family name, and support parents into their old age.

This deep-seated discrimination is undiminished despite decades of feminism.

Interestingly, the richest provinces have the largest imbalance.

These are the areas likely to be targeted by IVF clinics, if sex selection spreads.

It remains the preserve of the rich, costing anywhere from $10,000 in Thailand to $17,000 in the United States.

“You guys are in the past; this is the future,” Dr. Daniel Potter from California’s Huntington Clinic told 60 Minutes.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear – this is not an argument against IVF.

We should all avail ourselves of medical technology, whether to cure cancer, reduce the incidence of heart disease, or assist those who are infertile.

My precious seven-year-old boy wouldn’t be here today without the work of Sydney IVF.

After losing my mum to cancer, I was desperate to have a girl.

But even if I could have chosen, I wouldn’t have. Every child is a blessing.

I went on to give birth to a girl, but I love my son equally.

Before we go down the path of the United States, we need a robust debate about the ethical guidelines governing sex selection.

Like Australia, the UK only allows it for genetic disorders.

During a debate in the House of Commons, Dr. Francoise Shenfield from the University College London Hospital said, “If you believe in equality as enshrined in international human rights, it’s illogical to allow social sex selection. It necessarily means that one sex is preferable to the other for that couple”.

Jodi McMahon is now eight weeks pregnant with another female embryo.

But she does recognise the dangers.

In an interview with Woman’s Day magazine last year she said, “I know it is, I guess, a step forward to the designer baby, choosing your own sex, but I mean, I’m sure there’s ways they could restrict it if it ever came to being like that, like they could put rules on it before they offered it to the public”.

But how do we stop a #firstworldproblem from becoming a #thirdworldcatastrophe?