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After three boys, Stacey Hughes made sure her fourth baby was a girl. This is how

Email IVF sex selection sparks ethical debate By Jessica van Vonderen

Posted August 10, 2019 05:22:40

Stacey Hughes holds her baby girl Andi. Photo: Stacey Hughes and her baby girl Andi, whose sex was selected via IVF in a US clinic. (ABC News: Russell Talbot) Related Story: Mothers desperate for a daughter break silence on 'gender disappointment' Related Story: IVF expert defends call for gender selection of third child Related Story: Couples travel overseas to avoid ban on choosing baby's sex Map: Australia

It is no accident that Stacey Hughes' fourth baby is a girl.

Key points:

  • Gender selection through IVF is prohibited in Australia, except if a baby is at risk of inheriting a serious medical condition
  • Some want Australian restrictions reviewed and lifted, so parents who have two or more babies of the same gender can choose their third
  • A new study is to aiming to learn more about why some people are so driven to want a baby of a particular gender

The central Queensland mother was happy with her three boys, and yet, something was missing.

"I lost my mother 10 years ago, so I don't have that mother-daughter relationship, and after I had my third boy, I really wanted to have a baby girl," Ms Hughes said.

"If I was going to have another child naturally, there was a high probability it would be a boy, so I just wanted to take that risk out of it."

At 38 years of age, she figured the clock was ticking, so started investigating sex selection through IVF.

Stacey Hughes sits next to her three smiling boys on the couch in their home. One boy is holding a truck built from Lego pieces. Photo: Stacey Hughes, with her three sons, used sex selection in the US to have a daughter. (ABC News: Rachel McGhee)

The procedure is prohibited in Australia, except if a baby is at risk of inheriting a serious medical condition.

Ms Hughes found a clinic in Los Angeles and the whole family travelled to America.

"The cost of the procedure was $US15,000 and then on top of that — the cost of travelling, the flights, the accommodation for three weeks — so yes, it was quite an expensive trip," she said.

Scientist wearing gloves and looking through the microscope at an IVF culture dish. Photo: Sex selection is prohibited in Australia. (ABC News: Jessica van Vonderen)

'Should be an individual's choice'

Brisbane fertility specialist Dr David Molloy said Ms Hughes' story was increasingly common.

"It would be rare for a fortnight to go by where I don't have a couple seeking gender selection," Dr Molloy said.

"To be fair, not many patients can afford overseas treatment."

External Link: YouTube: ABC News: Would you choose your baby's gender, if you could?

Dr Molloy is backing a new push by a group of parents to have the Australian restrictions reviewed and lifted, so that parents who have two or more babies of the same sex can choose the sex of their next.

He said it should be an individual's choice.

"I just don't think the state should be sticking its nose into people's bedrooms," Dr Molloy said.

"There is just no harm associated with doing gender selection for a set number of families who want to family balance.

"There's no cost, because the patients have to wear it themselves, so there's no cost to the Medicare system or society."

David Molloy in an office, next to a framed poster that says 'The Miracle of Human Life'. Photo: Dr David Molloy says Ms Hughes' story is increasingly common. (ABC News: Jessica van Vonderen)

'I felt like I was ripped off'

The Legalise Family Balancing group has written to more than 100 state and federal MPs and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to plead their case.

Their letter states that "gender desire causes genuine and, at times, severe distress in those experiencing it. Restricting sex selection is effectively denying Australians access to what would be an effective means of alleviating this distress".

The back of a blonde woman standing looking at Brisbane city, who wished to remain anonymous. Photo: One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke of her devastation at losing her baby daughter at 33 weeks. (ABC News: Jessica van Vonderen)

They said gender disappointment caused "psychological anguish" and some women were terminating pregnancies based on gender.

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told ABC News of her devastation at losing her daughter at 33 weeks, to then fall pregnant with a baby boy.

"I felt like I was ripped off — I felt like nothing would ever be the same again and that my whole world was just coming crashing down, because it was not what I'd hoped and not what I'd dreamed," she said.

"Despite having two beautiful boys — they can't fill that void of a girl — because they're different, they're completely different."

'Value of unconditional love'

Dr Bernadette Tobin, director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics in Sydney, said she believed the Australian ban must remain, even if it caused parents distress.

Dr Bernadette Tobin, standing in front of a bookshelf. Photo: Dr Bernadette Tobin believes the Australian ban must remain, even if it caused parents distress. (ABC News: Ross McLoughlin)

"Admission to life should not be conditional on the child coming up to any expectations of the parents," Dr Tobin said.

"The value of unconditional love is such a social, as well as personal good, that it's worth preserving, insofar as we can."

Dr Tobin said she feared permitting sex selection would open the door for other characteristics as well.

Professor Ian Olver, formerly the chair of the Australian Health Ethics Committee, is about to embark on a study to learn more about why some people are so driven to want a baby of a particular sex.

"If the law in some states, or indeed the social attitude towards sex selection is going to change, I think understanding what motivates people to want it is important," Professor Olver said.

Steam comes out of a machine a scientist is using at an IVF specialist day hospital in Brisbane. Photo: The cost of sex selection procedures is the responsibility of the parents. (ABC News: Jessica van Vonderen) Powered byScreendoor.

Topics: fertility-and-infertility, reproduction-and-contraception, health, pregnancy-and-childbirth, human-interest, people, babies, babies—newborns, family-and-children, community-and-society, australia, qld, brisbane-4000

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