International Women’s Day was an interesting date to see this story in the SMH about the Sydney IVF clinic that is arranging for couples to have gender-selective IVF in Thailand in order to avoid Australian regulations that prohibit gender selective IVF for non-medical reasons.

This follows the story earlier this year of the couple who aborted their IVF-conceived male twins (they already have three sons) and were seeking the leave to choose the gender-selective IVF for their next pregnancy.

The staff at Sydney IVF said that the Australian guidelines are “wrong” claimed that the inability of parents to select the gender of their baby was as “devastating” as infertility for some couples.

Gender-selection and parental choice is a prime example of how sanctifying individual choice can lead to undesirable outcomes for society as a whole.

“Choosing” the gender of your child (generally through sex-selective abortion rather than IVF) has skewed the gender ratio to such a significant extent in India and China that in some regions, the lack of available females is leading to abductions and to practices such as telling a new bride that she will have to “service” her husband’s brothers – after all, there are no brides on the horizon for them.

Gender-selective abortion is also out-of-bounds in Australia, although at least some women who were highly motivated to seek it could probably manage to do so.

And IVF of any kind (gender-selective or not) only accounts for a minority of births.

But I still do not agree with Kylie de Boer when she says that gender-selective IVF is a decision that should be left entirely to doctors and patients. Assisted reproductive technology is becoming more and more widespread as it becomes used for social as well as medical infertility, and as it does so, the ways in which parental choice mirrors social prejucies will become more visible.

Dr de Boer says that most of her clients who are interested in gender-selective IVF are desperate for a daughter, rather than a son. However, once again we cannot be sure that this trend would continue if they practice were to become more widespread. In any case, a skewed gender imbalance  generates social issues no matter which way it runs, as can be seen in the aftereffects of war, which often leaves societies with more young women than men. Utilising the practice only for “family balancing” would not necessarily avoid the problem of gender imbalance – more families may seek to “balance” their family if it lacked a son than if it lacked a daughter – or vice versa.

I believe that women are entitled to bodily autonomy, but decisions of any kind are not made in a vacumn…