Preconception sex selection for non-medical and indirectly medical reasons: ethical reflections

Keywords:

Preconception sex selection, non-medical reasons, flow cytometry, ethics, regulation

G. DEWERT, W. DONDORP

Maastricht University, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Dept. Health, Ethics & Society, Research Institute
GROW, P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Correspondence at: g.dewert@hes.unimaas.nl

Abstract

Sex selection for non-medical reasons is forbidden in many countries. Focusing on preconception sex selection, the authors first observe that it is unclear what should count as a ‘medical reason’ in this context and argue for the existence of ‘intermediate reasons’ that do not fit well within the rigid distinction between ‘medical’and ‘non-medical’. The article further provides a critical review of the arguments for the prohibition of sex selection for non-medical reasons and finds that none of these are conclusive. The authors conclude that the ban should be reconsidered, but also that existing societal concerns about possible harmful effects should be taken seriously. Measures to this effect may include limiting the practice to couples who already have at least one child of the sex opposite to that which they now want to select (‘family balancing’). Finally, a difficult set of questions is raised by concerns about the reliability and unproven (long-term) safety of the only technology (flow cytometry) proven to work.