Sex Selection – Legalities and Requirements

18 couple discussing baby gender with gynaecologist

Sex selection is a hotly debated issue that has been raging for decades in Australia. It is currently not legal to choose the gender of an IVF baby in Australia but it is allowed elsewhere, for example, Italy, the US, Mexico and many Asian countries.

There are a number of reasons people want to choose the gender of their babies, some of which could be deemed more justifiable than others. These reasons can fall under two categories:

  • Medical based – to avoid genetic illnesses associated with a particular gender.
  • Non-medical based – choosing gender as a personal preference or to “balance” the family, for example, desiring a daughter after having two sons.

The United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have stated an opposition to sex selection for non-medical reasons, due to the “serious moral, legal and social issues” it raises. These include the possibility to “distort the natural sex ratio, leading to gender imbalance” and “reinforcing discriminatory and sexist stereotypes by devaluing females.”

Sex Selection Regulations in Australia

Scientifically administered sex selection techniques were permitted in NSW from 1999 to 2004 until the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) strongly advised against it on ethical grounds.

But the NHMRC guidelines do permit the process of sex selection using PGS/PGD (pre-implantation genetic screening/diagnosis) to avoid the risk of transmitting a serious genetic condition. The position in Australia is that sex selection is justified in cases where it’s in the child’s best interests to be born a specific sex.

For example, couples may carry genes for muscular dystrophy and haemophilia, health conditions that only affect males. In such a situation, they may legally investigate the possibility of producing a female through IVF.

Countries Where Sex Selection is Legal

The ban on non-medical sex selection in Australia has resulted in a significant rise in the number of couples seeking sex selection services overseas. This phenomenon has been labelled ‘reproductive tourism’, where people are travelling for gender selection, egg donations and general infertility treatments.

Since the guidelines from NHMRC came into effect, between 100 and 200 Australians have been travelling overseas for non-medical sex selection every year. Like all medical tourism, it comes with various risks and complications. Those seeking out this service overseas need to do their research.

To be certain the overseas clinic has a good success rate, consult your local fertility specialist for advice about trusted clinics. Generally speaking, American clinics are safer options but can be significantly more expensive than clinics in Asia or the Middle East.

How Sex Selection Works

Sex selection is only possible when you have embryos through an IVF procedure, as you can’t definitively test the gender of an egg or sperm. PGS/PGD is then used to determine the gender and assess whether there is evidence of a risk associated with a genetic disease. Unwanted or at-risk embryos may be discarded.

If you’re thinking about going overseas for sex selection or any other IVF procedures, seek advice from a local fertility specialist. For more personalised and specific information about travelling overseas for an egg donor, contact our clinic in Melbourne.

Dr Alex Polyakov is an IVF specialist who can prepare women before they leave for the recommended clinic and country of their choice in St Petersburg, LA, and Asian countries. He can talk to you in detail about the process and legality for treatments such as sex selection and surrogacy.