Sex selection: Sarah’s journey to make sure she had a girl

ALL Sarah ever wanted was to have a baby girl to call her own.

First published by news.com.au on February 13, 2017. Republished by The Courier Mail and Kidspot.com.au

Already mum to two young boys and unwilling to risk naturally conceiving a third, in 2011 Sarah and her family chose to travel from Australia to the United States for IVF to take advantage of highly accurate sex selection technology to achieve her dream.

After the birth of her first born child, a son, Sarah tells news.com.au that she and her husband tried everything to naturally conceive a girl, but nothing worked.

“When I fell pregnant the second time and found out it was a boy I was in utter disbelief because I wanted it so badly to be a girl … I burst into tears,” Sarah says.

She says this “gender disappointment” saw her spiral into depression.

“I guess I’m not really good at not getting what I want,” she says. “I was still pregnant at the time and the only way I got through it was to do a heap of research on sex selection … it helped me to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I realised, OK, this is not the end of the world and while we can’t do [sex selection] in Australia, we can save up and go to America to do it.”

Which is exactly what Sarah and her family did, spending more than $20,000 to travel to the USA for IVF. Fortunately for Sarah, she fell pregnant after just one round of IVF with two female embryos, resulting in fraternal twin girls.

Sarah and her husband with their long awaited twin girls.

Sarah and her husband with their long awaited twin girls.Source:Supplied

Her twins are now four-and-a-half and Sarah says the girls are everything she could have hoped for and more. “I love all my kids absolutely and the girls have really just completed our family.”

Sarah’s just one of thousands of Australians who, for the past 12 or more years, have invested tens-of-thousands of dollars into visiting fertility clinics in the USA, Greece and, to a lesser extent, the UAE to ensure they give birth to a baby of their preferred gender.

These families do this because they can’t make it happen at home — sex selection for non-medical reasons has been banned in Australia since 2004, despite the technology’s ready availability via Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) during the IVF process.

BUT THIS MAY BE ABOUT TO CHANGE …

The Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) at the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is currently reviewing Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) guidelines in clinical practice and is expected to release its decision sometime this year.

Since 2004, the guidelines have precluded non-medical sex selection on ethical grounds, stating that “admission to life should not be conditional upon a child being a particular sex”.

But there are many Australians who disagree, including Sarah who believes sex selection should be readily accessible for everyone.

“It kind of bewilders me why it’s not allowed, being that we’re a free country,” she says. “How does is it personally affect other people, me having a daughter and a son, or two of each? How does that affect anyone other than me and my family?”

Sarah’s family is now complete.

Sarah’s family is now complete.Source:Supplied

THE ‘FAMILY BALANCE’

Associate Professor Peter Illingworth is IVF Australia’s medical director and a highly experienced infertility specialist. He says very few people come to the clinic with a desire to choose the sex of their child. “The vast majority of couples we see come to us because they just want to have a healthy child,” he says.

When couples do express an interest in sex selection, he says it’s usually related to achieving gender balance within families.

“Occasionally we see couples that already have two or three of one gender and would like to balance their family and I don’t think that’s a soft reason for using genetic technology,” he says.

He says IVF with PGD would be more affordable in Australia compared to going overseas.

“I think finding a way where we can meet the needs of these couples so they don’t have to go overseas is a major argument for change,” he says.

AHEC’s chairman Professor Ian Olver is charged with overseeing the NHMRC review. And while information on the ethical issues the committee has been reviewing is currently unavailable, he told ABC Radio National’s PM program in 2015 that he recognised family balancing as a significant reason why so many couples choose to go abroad for sex selection technology.

“We know that the number of Australians are going overseas to seek [sex selection] because it’s not available here and it’s certainly something that people are beginning to talk about for things like, for example, family balancing,” he said.

“In Israel for example, if you’ve had four children of the same sex, you’re allowed to petition the government to be able to choose the sex of the next one.”

GENDERED PERSPECTIVES

Tereza Hendl is a philosopher and bioethicists currently employed as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at Sydney University.

She’s a vocal opponent of sex selection and believes lifting the ban would prove damaging for children born from this technology because of the parental expectation for them to conform to preconceived and stereotypical ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ gender roles.

“A ‘gender-balanced family’ is a troubling concept, as it implies that there are better and worse types of families. Gender selection assumes fundamental and fixed differences between children based on their sex and, as such, it reinforces gender stereotypes,” she tells news.com.au.

“I believe that in 2017, Australia should be challenging and overcoming gender stereotyping, not reinforcing it.

*Sarah’s surname and location have been omitted at the interviewee’s request.

News.com.au approached the NHMRC to request comment from Ethics Committee Chairman Professor Ian Olver for this article and was informed that no further information would be provided in relation to the review until after the release of the revised guidelines — of which a release date could not be advised.

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