Family balancing - or vanity parenting?

September 26, 2022

Family balancing - or vanity parenting?

Megan Best

Developments in assisted reproduction technologies (ART) have made it possible to select the sex of a child.

While several scientific (and not-so-scientific) methods are marketed as sex selection methods, the most reliable method involves two processes, in-vitro-fertilisation (IVF) and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This involves a woman receiving hormones which promote the development of multiple eggs, which are extracted and combined with sperm in the laboratory to create embryos. The developing embryos are examined to identify the sex, and an embryo of the preferred genetic makeup transferred to the woman’s uterus. Any excess ‘preferred’ embryos are usually frozen for future transfer. The others are discarded.

This technique was practised freely in Australia from 1998 until 2004, when the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) restricted its use on ethical grounds. So while not illegal, it is difficult to access.[1] At present, it is only allowed to avoid the risk of transmitting a serious genetic sex-specific condition.[2]

Many people aren’t happy with this situation. They want to select the sex of their child, not for medical reasons, but because they have offspring of one sex and don’t want to risk having another one the same. The demand has led to hundreds of couples travelling overseas for gender selection procedures, and there are even businesses set up to cater specifically for these Australians. Consider this promotion on an international IVF site:

Medical science constantly strives to make peoples’ lives better and more fulfilled.  Many couples choose family balancing because they want to experience the joy of raising children of both genders. We are specialists in helping people achieve their dreams of balanced families[3]


Doesn’t sound so bad? The NHMRC justify limiting sex selection on grounds that it makes it more difficult for a parent to unconditionally accept their child, and that it may be an expression of sexual prejudice. The guidelines are currently under review, and fertility clinics are lobbying hard to get the ban reversed. It is claimed that the desire for family balancing is natural and modern technology should be able to assist this (dare I say lucrative?) desire.

Desire for children is healthy and good. But how specifically should we dream? Gender selection is usually framed in terms of what the parents want and what they get. In the news photos, the babies are invariably cute. But let us consider another angle.

The discarded embryos of the ‘incorrect’ sex (potentially more than a dozen) may be completely healthy. Proponents of sex selection bans have been criticised for promoting abortion (this happened recently in Victoria when a couple found they were carrying a child of the unwanted sex).[4] Yet apparently discarding IVF embryos has become normalised to the point of being discounted. Both attack intrinsic, God-given human dignity.[5]

ART’s growing arsenal of techniques has created expectations in parents which have never before existed. As society allows parents to dictate more attributes for their offspring, do we make it harder for them to accept the inevitable flaws that come with being human? Children deserve unconditional love. Life is tough enough in terms of its expectations. There is no test which guarantees parents their ideal baby. What if a mistake is made and the child turns out to be the wrong sex anyway? Or rejects gender stereotypes and refuses to wear pink? The clinics deny these are designer babies—we are not choosing intelligence or eye colour. But we are undeniably moving closer to the idea of human manufacture as opposed to procreation.



[1] Australian fertility clinics are required to comply with the NHMRC guidelines as part of the accreditation process.

[2] Where a family carries genes for diseases such as haemophilia or muscular dystrophy, conditions which only affect males, it is possible to legally investigate the option of ensuring only female children are born.



[5] See Megan Best, Embryo Liberation, Case #17, 2008.

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