Hollywood pigeon pairs: why Aussie women are travelling abroad to choose their baby's sex.

Hollywood has just welcomed perfect two pairs of boy and girl celebrity twins.

In Australia, if you want that outcome – or want to fall pregnant and choose a girl or a boy via IVF, you may have to travel as far as Los Angeles.

“We know that there are people who travel to the US for sex selection,” says Dr Devora Lieberman from Genea.

The Sydney-based fertility specialist says the trip could mean women are putting themselves at risk.

“The stimulating drugs that you take for the IVF process you could be at increased risk of a blood clot and you compound that with a long-haul flight to California and it could potentially be quite dangerous and it’s quite onerous,” she said.

Parents in Australia were able to select their baby’s gender via IVF until the Australian Health Ethics Committee ban in 2005. Their guidelines were said to be based on the interests of the child.

At the time, Dr Kerry Breen, from the Australian Health Ethics Committee, told the ABC: “We believe a child is entitled to come into this world without anyone deciding the sex ahead of time.”

Before then, fertility specialists Genea offered up to 150 cycles in sex selection a year for full paying patients.

“There was no Medicare or government funding of their treatment,” Dr Lieberman said.

“In Australia, in the UK and in the US – 60 per cent of couples who seek sex selection in the first world are looking for a girl,” she added.


“People think that everyone is going to want a boy but no, what I find often is there’s a real drive for women to have a daughter,” she added.

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Two months ago, a review from Australia’s peak medical council upheld the ban, despite an increase in sex selection tourism to countries like the US where the practice is legal.

“In the IVF process when we stimulate eggs and we create embryos we have the ability to test embryos and count their chromosomes and in that process we can determine whether the embryos are male or female,” says Dr Lieberman.

“Doing the test is legal but to choose which embryo is transferred [to the womb] based on sex is not.”

However, the US doesn’t have any restrictions on parents choosing which embryos are transferred.

With a hefty price tag – parents can choose a girl or a boy a or even a girl and a boy – because it’s also common in the US to return two embryos to the womb.

Why not?

The World Health Organization says sex selection for non-medical reasons raises “serious moral, legal, and social issues”.

They are concerned sex selection will distort the natural sex ratio leading to a gender imbalance and reinforce discriminatory and sexist stereotypes towards women by devaluing females.

But for Dr Lieberman, sex selection is about reproductive choice.

“If you’re a couple who have a child of one sex and would like to have a child of the other sex, the government shouldn’t be telling you that you don’t have the ability to access technology to do that – if that’s what you want to do, to complete your family the way you’d like to have a completed,” says Dr Lieberman.

Does the IVF procedure have an ick factor? Image via Getty.

Dr Lieberman's frustration is that she wants to be able to help her patients - especially when she has the options in front of her.

"I have lots of patients who have their embryos tested as part of their IVF process and we know what the sex is of their embryos, but they're not allowed to choose the order in which they go back which just seems crazy to me," she said.


"We can't tell them. We've gotten very strict about that, we don't tell them what they've got which I think is really ridiculous.

"I'll have a patient with two boys and a girl and a boy left in the freezer - why in the world she couldn't she opt to have the girl put back if she would like to have a girl?"

The doctor says it is then up to the embryologist to make the decision about which goes back, while being blinded to gender.

"They make the decision based on the beauty contest of embryology but you can have two embryos that are of an equal grade and then it's just random."

The ick factor

Dr Lieberman says many medical professionals who offer IVF would like to offer patients the opportunity to choose the sex of their child.

"People think that we're going to be like China and India but we're not. People think sex selection that's about not having a girl but it's quite the opposite," she said.

However she says the argument is never going to won by public opinion.

"There's just kind of an ick factor or you're playing God factor [in the public sphere] but if you talk to parents who are really quite desperate to have a baby of one sex or the other -  and that's for all sorts of reasons, for cultural reasons religious reasons, or they would like to have the experience of parenting both genders - you get a very very different response."

"For me it's a reproductive choice issue and I think that the government just has no business interfering."