In a culture which values control, choice, and autonomy, it is no wonder people dream of a “perfect” family, with just the right mix of boys and/or girls, in just the right order. In many countries, including the U.S., assisted reproductive technology has made “family balancing” an option through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Thankfully, it is illegal in Canada to choose based on sex which embryos to implant through IVF. While fertility doctors can easily test embryos to discover this information prior to implantation, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act makes it illegal to share this information with the parents, except in the case of genetic disorders linked to a particular sex.
This law against sex-selection recognizes a potential abuse of reproductive technology, and addresses potential inequalities by eliminating the risk of sex-targeted fertility treatments. However, should IVF be successful and a pregnancy result, there is no law against aborting that same pre-born child based on its sex. When pregnancy with multiples – twins or triplets – results, it is not uncommon to decide to “reduce the pregnancy” by aborting the child or children of the undesired sex. This dichotomy sends a mixed message on whether life really is valued equally, whether male or female.
Dr. Albert Yuzpe, co-founder of the Genesis Fertility Centre in Vancouver, says the demand for sex-selection during IVF is ongoing in Canada. American websites regularly advertise to Canadians, knowing they can provide options that are illegal in Canada. For example, Overlake Reproductive Health offers payment options for Canadians, has connections with clinics in British Columbia so some appointments can be done in Canada, and promotes their “family balancing” services. Canadian clinics are feeling the pressure, and some may be bowing to it in the interest of increasing business.
In the U.S., where sex selection in IVF is legal, one doctor says that 85% of his patients come to him so they can choose the sex of their baby. This is not IVF as a means of getting pregnant when other means have failed – this is IVF as a means of attempting to control life.
The Assisted Human Reproduction Act of Canada bans sex selection of implanted embryos. The UK and Australia have similar laws. These laws show a basic understanding that we should not determine who gets to live based on their sex. But our lack of abortion law contributes to and confuses the issue, especially when we see that girls are aborted at a much higher rate than boys in some parts of Canada.
We can’t stop prospective parents from traveling to the U.S. and elsewhere for sex selection. But we can and should use law and public dialogue to promote the notion that in this country, both sexes are equally valuable. This includes the need for a law banning sex selective abortion.