Kevin O'Higgins Solicitors

Gender selection: What ethical issues does it raise?

Tuesday, 15 March, 2016

Deirdre Madden is a professor of Law at University College Cork and author of Medicine, Ethics and The Law. She believes electing to have a baby of a certain gender raises some challenging questions. 


There's the question of whether you want to have a particular sex for a first child and the question of wanting a different sex for your fourth, fifth or sixth child which is a different argument," she explains.

"If you take a libertarian perspective, where you value choice and liberty, then you're not harming anybody by choosing to have a baby of a specific gender and why should the State interfere? You're not any more likely to treat the child badly because of its sex and it's your choice to make."

But from the unborn embryo's point of view, valuing one sex over the other is discrimination. It also raises concerns about imprinting the parents' preconceived notions of that gender on the child.

"You're seeking to design a child to your own specifications and the argument could be made that that could harm the child if they know they were chosen because of their sex," says Professor Madden.

"They may feel they have to live up to the stereotypes of that gender, and if they don't 'act like a girl' will they be rejected by their parents?"

There's also the question of the embryos discarded because they are the wrong gender, the argument that widespread sex selection could affect global gender balance and reinforce gender stereotypes.

"There's a level of consumerism to it," says Professor Madden. "That you are 'entitled' to have a child that matches your specific expectations."

But despite that fact that some clinics like Dr Steinberg's are now experimenting with selecting eye colour and other attributes, she doesn't feel PGD represents an opening of the floodgates.

"The notion of 'designer babies' always tends to be sensationalised in the media and people always talk about the 'slippery slope' which is a pretty negative view of what legislation can do," she says.

"After Dolly the Sheep there were a lot of fears about cloning that never came to pass. I think the big danger is not having sufficient legislation and allowing reproductive health to become big business."


Irish Independent