ART & Gender Selection

Should People Be Able to Choose a Child's Gender?

A couple in Scotland was turned down by the responsible government authority in their request to use in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The thing that made this couple's request different was their reason: rather than using the technology to get around infertility, the couple specifically wanted to create a daughter.

Alan and Louise Masterton have four sons and lost their only daughter, a 3-year-old, in an accidental fire last year. They state that rather than attempting to "replace" their daughter, they simply want to add another child to the family and, specifically, a girl.

Interestingly, their chosen clinic, the Center for Advanced Reproduction in Nottingham, was willing to assist. In Europe, however, such questions are addressed by a government entity, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The HFEA's stance is historically more conservative than that of practitioners in the United States (there is no similar authority in the States), so it was no surprise that the HFEA refused to allow the couple's IVF.

Disease Prevention or Family Balancing

The implications of using assisted reproductive technology (ART) for gender selection are complex. At this time, it is possible to use what is known casually as "sperm sorting" for use in IUI and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in IVF, with the goal of creating pregnancies with a chosen gender.

Often, the use of such technology is to prevent genetic transmission of certain gender-based diseases, such as hemophilia, forms of muscular dystrophy, and other debilitating syndromes. However, the term "family balancing" is being used to describe the other reason for using these technologies, that is, to have a child of a certain gender simply as a matter of preference.

The HFEA allows for gender selection techniques in cases of preventing hereditary gender-based disease. In the United States, there are no similar rules.