Assisted Reproduction

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. 

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  1. “Using IVF, only embryos of the desired sex are implanted in the mother”

    Dare I ask what happens to the remaining embryos?

    1. They are tossed out or (maybe?) used for experiments like the pre-proto-subhuman undifferentiated tissue scraps they are.

      1. That’s reassuring, thanks Cyto!

    2. Here is where I suspect we part ways Notorious.

      Its a freakin’ single cell with a full compliment of DNA, just like the zillions I washed off of my razor and down the sink this morning.

      1. Thank goodness you washed those off your razor or they could have grown into a full human.

        Right? Otherwise, what a non sequitur!

        1. Potential people don’t have any rights or inherent value.

        2. So I’m assuming you don’t masturbate?

        3. I don’t think you got my point.

        4. Wait…Acosmist gives me an idea. I should start saving those cells and create a vast army of liberty minded mini-mes.

      2. If it weren’t for magical thinking they would probably be used to grow hearts, livers, kidneys, skin, pancreas, bone, lungs…etc. etc.

        Maybe some are saved for people who want babies but can’t have them? Most are probably flushed. There always has been and always will be a huge surplus of reproductive cells that won’t become sentient creatures.

        1. What do you mean by “reproductive cells”?

          1. zygotes and embryos.

            1. I used to be a zygote. I used to be an embryo. You were once a zygote. You were once an embryo.

              Would it have been OK to kill you or me at that stage of development?

                1. OK, then, at what point in my development, and yours, did we acquire the right *not* to be killed?

                2. Denying certain classifications of human the moral standing of basic rights is a the great libertarian virtue.

              1. Neither you, nor I was ever a zygote. You could draw that line back to the beginning of time. Were you in existence when the egg that became your mother or father existed in your grandmother? Great grandparents? In some critter a hundred million years ago?

                C’mon now, this is pure reductio ad absurdum.

                1. As he said below, you gotta draw the line somewhere. I draw it when the soul enters the body. If you ask me when that is, i have no fucking clue.

                  1. You don’t? I do.

                    1. Care to share?

                    2. Based on the premise that identical twins dont share a soul, its some point after two weeks.

                    3. People are things. They are made of matter and exist in a location.

                      People that have no substance have no location. Such a person enters a body never. If you ask me what part of the person contains a soul I will tell you unequivocally the imagination.

                      I give up. I see I have stepped in it here. This is gonna go nowhere.

                      Suffice it to say that if you are anti-abortion you can consider me an ally after VERY early in a pregnancy.

                    4. The pineal gland, duh.

                2. “Neither you, nor I was ever a zygote.”

                  I’m not 100% sure I agree with your science there.

                3. “Neither you, nor I was ever a zygote.”

                  You weren’t? Then when there was a zygote which eventually became you, what was it?

                  1. You were never a zygote because you were never your when that zygote was around that became you. Potential beings do not have rights.

                    1. Heap big magic necessary to make zygote person. Many gerbils must be sacrificed.

                4. That’s some quality derp there, accusing someone of a reductio ad absurdum with a false equivalency.

                  A higher organism’s development is a continuum from conception to old age. No one claims any point before conception is on that continuum, but it does include zygote.

      3. You gotta draw the line somewhere, and I would imatine that the line is between living members of *homo sapiens* and other entities.

        1. And a line between animate and sentient. That is one hell of a fuzzy line. Taking caution and drawing it leaning towards the animate side is fine, but going as far back as a single fertilized egg is a bit silly.

          1. Let me ask this: At what point in my development would it have been OK to kill me? at what point in my development would it have been OK to kill you?

            Between conception and brain development?

            Between conception and the development of a fetal heartbeat?

            Between conception and birth?

            1. At what point in *your* development would it have been OK etc.

              1. Buck-buck-buck BA-CAW!

            2. “Let me ask this: At what point in my development would it have been OK to kill me? at what point in my development would it have been OK to kill you?”

              Slow down a bit there. That is some serious question begging. At some point in your development you were not you, nor I me.

              Once a ‘you’ is there, when your brain is more than a little R-complex, then you are a person. That is when the woman’s ‘its my body’ goes out the window. It is not her body anymore, it is yours.

              1. This is deep philosophical territory, but –

                “Once a ‘you’ is there, when your brain is more than a little R-complex, then you are a person.”

                OK, I’ll need an explanation of how I wasn’t me before my brain got the requisite level of development.

                Now, before my brain became R-complex, the law gave me full inheritance rights, so that if right after my conception some rich uncle died with a will specifying that “any living nephew” would inherit the property, I would have been entitled to the estate (along with other living nephews).

                So if I had inheritance rights, why not the right to life as well?

                (PS-I didn’t have rich uncle die and leave me all his estate)

                1. I am really sorry about the uncle bit. That is a shame.

                  We will never get anywhere until we agree on a solid definition for ‘person’ and ‘me’, otherwise we are just flailing about on whether or not a falling tree makes a noise.

                2. I’m probably with you 99% of the way on the larger issue here, but this isn’t a good example. “You” didn’t have inheritance rights before the law recognized “you” as a rights-bearing entity. Before that, there was only a hypothetical and a set of rules about what to do if that hypothetical came to pass.

                  1. Blah, that was a stupid word choice. I didn’t mean to imply that rights are bestowed on us by the law.

                    What I should have said is that and individual person has rights, not the idea of a person.

                3. “Paradoxically, while the unborn child’s life is protected not at all [in North Carolina], her rights to property are protected: The property of a parent dying without a will immediately vests in the unborn child as to real estate and as to personal property since 1809. Since 1839 it has been clear that an unborn child may take property by will. Since 1854 an unborn child can receive and hold title to real estate by a deed. Since 1853 the courts have recognized that an unborn child may take property under a passive trust and since 1860 an unborn child could be the beneficiary of an active trust. Unborn children today have their property rights protected by a guardian ad liten appointed by the Clerk of Court. (But this guardian can not take any action to preserve the unborn child’s life.)”


                  1. That all seems rather silly to me. How can a person that may or may not exist at some unspecified point in the future hold title?

                    1. In the same way your rights continue to exist while you are receiving CPR in spite of being technically ‘dead’.

                      That doesn’t mean if the woman was having IVF that the estate would be split evenly between all the frozen embryos and the viable child in the womb…

        2. I would draw the line sometime after their is any entity whatsoever ie not a zygote.

          Leave us out of your Catholic Theocracy.

          1. Leave us out of your sophomoric rationalizations.

      4. They biopsy by taking a few cells out of 100. It aint singl cell at that point.

    3. Frozen. And donated if the parents have no plans to use them later.

  2. gender dreaming

    I thought this was what NutraSweet does all day at work.

  3. I’m a little confused by the point of the article. It does a good job of explaining what the practice is and how the laws concerning it vary from country to country, but wouldn’t an attempt to explain and refute the reasons why so many other countries ban sex selection be prudent? Based only on the information provided I would be left to conclude they do it purely out of caprice.

    1. Magical thinking PA, magical thinking.

      1. More projection there than at a 20 theater Cineplex.

    2. I doubt the reasoning extends beyond “it’s icky”.

    3. In certain societies, I could see gender selection being used to ensure the “favorite” sex, not unlike the one-child policy in China led to a disproportionate number of males being carried to term and taken care of. Of course, that presupposes that 1) enough would want to go down the IVF route to make an impact, 2) that enough people could afford it, and 3) that there is a strong enough incentive in that society to prefer one sex over the other. In other words, it would probably be overblown concern. But it is the type of thing I could see certain governments worrying about.

    4. The are scared that if one gender is selected more than the other it will lead to social upheaval and the last thing states want is a challenge to the status quo.

  4. with 80 percent wanting girls.

    Interesting. Wonder why that is. Something something male privilege?

    1. They want their offspring to go extra insane when they hit puberty?

    2. I find that impossible to believe.

    3. They’re planning on marrying them off to Chinese millionaires.

    4. More boy babies are born than girl babies because back in the day that was the best way to ensure that there was the right proportion when they grew up.

      Also, I would guess that there are some who want girls to avoid a sex-linked disorder that isn’t considered severe enough to qualify under European laws. Colorblindness probably wouldn’t qualify, but if you’re a colorblind man and you think it blows, I could see selecting for a daughter.

      1. That was a stupid example genetically but I think my point is reasonable.

    5. My great grandfather had four brothers. My grandfather had four brothers. My father was a single child. I have one brother. Both my brother and myself have only sons.

      Were I to use this procedure I would choose a girl. I mostly raised a girl but she is not my biological child.

      I always wished for a daughter, but alas, it is not to be.

      1. I always wished for a daughter

        My daughter is 9. Be very careful for what you wish. I fully expect to die of alcohol poisoning before she turns 16.

        1. I did laugh. Loud.

          I did say I raised one. she is responsible for all of my damn gray hair and wrinkles. I never felt my age until she came along.

          Still, I would do it.

  5. ENB, I hate to be pushy, but re your reply of 4:26, at what point of our development did we acquire the right not to be killed, and why?

    1. IMO, at the point of viability outside the womb. Prior to that we are squatters and the woman has no obligation to keep giving up her body for another. OTOH, if the woman is happy for the baby to remain then no-one has the right to remove or harm the baby – whether this counts as a harm on the baby or the mother’s property rights is a more complex question.

      Past viability then the woman still has no obligation, but those of us who care about the child should be allowed to remove it and care for it if the woman has no desire to do so.

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