'Let parents choose baby's gender'

[comment caption=Should IVF parents be allowed to choose the gender of their baby?]Parents should have the right to choose the sex of their unborn babies, the Government will be told today.

The Bioethics Council, a ministerial advisory committee, will give it a report which says individuals are in the best position to decide on sex selection.

The report, titled Who Gets Born?, concludes that the sex of embryos created outside the mother's body, under programmes such as IVF (in vitro fertilisation), should be able to be chosen by parents.

That would mean mothers and fathers would be able to gender-balance their families - something critics have attacked as "designer babies". The Government is working on guidelines to govern the growing availability and consequences of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis - the testing of embryos created outside the womb.

Sex selection is at present illegal except to treat a genetic disorder or disease.

Penalties for breaches are jail terms of up to five years or a fine of up to $200,000.

The Bioethics Council's programme leader, John Pen-nington, said the report would advise a change.

"We are finding . . . that individuals are the people who have to have the ultimate responsibility in making decisions on such personal, sensitive things as sex selection."

That included, for example, a family who had three boys and wanted a girl, he said.

Pre-birth testing includes pregnancy tests, blood tests and ultrasound scans, but the council's recommendation relates specifically to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD.

Bioethics Council chairman Associate Prof Martin Wilkinson said most people thought of IVF as enabling people with fertility problems to have a child.

"But access to PGD means people who don't necessarily have fertility problems may decide to use IVF for a different reason, namely to test for genetic conditions . . .

But considerations in pre-birth testing are not only medical. They touch on cultural, spiritual and ethical issues."

The council, an independent body, has spent a year gathering the views of more than 700 people as it compiled the report, which will be made public this morning.

Who gets born?

• The Bioethics Council says parents should be able to choose the sex of babies from embryos created outside the womb.

• The council says individuals should make the ultimate sensitive decision.

• At present, that is illegal in New Zealand, punishable by up to five years in prison.

• It is also illegal in the UK and Australia, but is allowed in the US.


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