America and Thailand Are Global Leaders in This Kind of Reproductive Freedom

Many countries around the world ban in-vitro fertilization practices that allow for the selection of a child's sex.


Prescott Pym/Flickr

In most of Europe and Asia, using in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to choose a child's sex is against the law. This prohibition has families flocking from around the globe to fertility clinics in Thailand and America, two of the few countries that don't regulate this reproductive territory. 

Newport Beach fertility specialist Daniel Potter said he sees about 10 patients per month who come from the U.K. seeking a way to select their baby's sex, with 80 percent wanting girls. Asian and Australian women have been traveling to Bangkok for the option, according to Reuters.

Embryonic sex selection is done by pregenetic screening (PGS), which involves biopsying fertilized eggs. This allows for spotting genetic abnormalities as well as determining an embryo's sex. Using IVF, only embryos of the desired sex are implanted in the mother; the procedure has a nearly 100 percent success rate. The going rate from Newport Beach to Bangkok seems to be about $15,000-$30,000.  

In pop terms, the practice is known as "family balancing" or, more creepily, "gender dreaming." According to 2009 data from the Center for Genetics and Society (the most recent data I could find), five countries prohibit it for any reason: Austria, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland, and Vietnam. Thirty-one countries prohibit it for "social or non-medical reasons," including Australia, Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, and the U.K. South Africa permitted the practice until 2012, when a law made choosing a child's sex "except in the case of serious sex linked or sex limited genetic conditions" a criminal offence.

Sex selection was banned in Britain under the 1990 "Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act", which says assisted reproduction can't involve "any practice designed to secure that any resulting child will be of one sex rather than the other". The Act also forbids "testing embryos for the purpose of establishing their sex" unless there is genetic likelihood of a serious, gender-related medical condition. One Welsch woman going by the pseudonym Stacey has been pushing to change the laws in the UK, after having three boys before seeing a fertility specialist in America and having a girl. 

In the United States, pre-implementation sex selection has been possible since 2001. (Read Ron Bailey writing about it here at the time.) American law remains quiet on the subject, as does the law in Thailand and several South American (Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador) and Middle Eastern countries (Egypt, Jordan). According to the Middle East Monitor, embryonic sex selection is a growing trend in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Israel recently amended its policy to allow non-medical sex selection if a family already has four children of one sex.