Israel's gender choice system focus of talk

Israeli scholar Prof Noam Zohar, at the University of Otago. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Israeli scholar Prof Noam Zohar, at the University of Otago. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
An Israeli committee system which allows for a degree of choice over a future baby's sex has resulted in "stable'' outcomes, a visiting Israeli academic says.

Noam Zohar spoke yesterday at the University of Otago, on "choosing your baby's sex: prenatal sex-selection - biblical perspectives and Israeli experience''.

"Should prospective parents be allowed to choose the sex of their expected baby - for non-medical reasons?'' he asked.

The talk, given in association with Otago's Centre of Theology and Public Issues, considered Israel's "unique response'' to the challenges of using controversial embryo gender-selection technology-called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, for non-medical purposes.

The Israeli approach tried to balance "individual liberty and gender equality within a multicultural society''.

Use of PGD for non-medical reasons is banned in New Zealand and in European nations.

Prof Zohar, a bioethicist at Bar Ilan University, was not advocating that New Zealand adopt the Israeli approach, but countries should continue to learn from each other.

"There's something to be said for a compromise,'' he said.

Under the Israeli system, a "good reason'' was needed before approval was granted, but specific family circumstances could be taken into account in a way that blanket bans did not allow.

The PGD technology was widely available in the United States and, since 2005, it had also been allowed in Israel for non-medical reasons.

But prospective mothers wishing to do so had to apply to an Israeli Health Ministry committee of about 10 people, and Prof Zohar has remained a member throughout.

In Israel, the technology had been authorised for parents who together have four children of the same gender, and there was "real and clear risk'' of significant damage to the "mental health'' of the parents, or future child, if the process was not undertaken.

The committee system had proved "stable'', given that only a limited number of applications - more than 100 per year- had been made, and no decisions had been challenged through the courts.

About 15% of the applications had been approved.


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