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Can sex selection be ethically tolerated?
  1. B M Dickens
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor B M Dickens, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, 84 Queen’s Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 2C5;

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Prohibition on sex selection may well be unnecessary and oppressive as well as posing risks to women’s lives

The urge to select children’s sex is not new. The Babylonian Talmud, a Jewish text completed towards the end of the fifth century of the Christian era, advises couples on means to favour the birth of either a male or a female child.1 The development of amniocentesis alerted the public in the mid-1970s to the scientific potential for prenatal determination of fetal sex,2 and progressive decriminalisation of abortion afforded choice about continuation of pregnancy. The more recent emergence of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) obviates resort to abortion, and improved techniques of sperm sorting and diagnosis permit creation of zygotes that will ensure the sex of a future child.

Growth of biomedical means to select the sex of future children has been accompanied by fear that such means will be employed to favour births of sons, and so perpetuate devaluation of girl children and women’s inferior family and social status. A reaction to this fear has been the demand for legal and medical professional prohibition of sex selection techniques. For instance, the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine3 provides in article 14 that:

The use of techniques of medically assisted procreation shall not be allowed for the purpose of choosing a future child’s sex, except where serious hereditary sex-related disease is to be avoided.

Legislation has been enacted in a number of countries, and proposed in others, to prohibit sex selection on non-medical grounds, such as the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 in India. In Canada, for instance, government draft legislation introduced in May 2002 proposes to make it a crime for any person, for the purpose of creating a human …

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