Ethics of Sex Selection: Research Paper

Sex Selection
Sex Selection

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Sex Selection


            For decades, sex selection has been a controversial issue. Choosing the sex of a child is often viewed as a justifiable act since there is no harm done to anyone. I believe that gender selection creates balance in a family and it is culturally viewed as a desirable practice that seeks to  fulfill social norms. However, there are ethicists who believe that sex selection reinforces the idea of sexual discrimination within our societies (Caulfield & Brownsword, 2012).

This explains why there are renewed efforts from civil societies and government to analyze arguments presented by different authors who either support or oppose the idea of  sex selection. 

This essay analyzes the meaning of human dignity from two different perspectives. Furthermore, the essay examines how human dignity is defined by our expression of choices and as an inherent value of the society. Based on a case study, the essay describes the social attitudes, norms and circumstance that influence such choices, and their impact on our understanding of human dignity. The essay presents justifications of particular actions concerning sex selection and analyzes some of the features of human dignity that can be put at risk due to actions arising from these two perspectives mentioned therein above.

The concept of human dignity

Human dignity is defined based on the belief that dignity is inherent; hence, human beings posses specific capabilities that are not found in other creatures. It is these features that help to distinguish human beings from other creatures. However, choosing a child’s sex does not define the inherent dignity of human beings. Permitting gender selection is considered as discrimination against a specific gender making it less valuable (Chapman &Benn, 2013).

There are various social reasons for sex selection. Some of these reasons include having a family balance, replacing the deceased child, cultural reasons et cetera. However, these reasons do not define human dignity especially in situations where boys are preferred more than girls. (Kalfoglou et al, 2013).

Kalfoglou et al (2013) views sex selection as an idea that reinforces sexual discrimination. As a result, human dignity is viewed as a situation where a certain gender is prevented from existing and the action is perceived to be justifiable because most people have not been victims of this cruelty. Therefore, individuals created by choice have do not have a reason to complain.

In spite of the reasons that seek to justify sex selection, it is considered to undermine human dignity; thus, causing harm to the wider society. Sex selection has often led to gender disparities in many countries especially in Asian countries such as China and India. This trend has led to patriarchal societal agreements perceived to discriminate girls and women (Mudde, 2010).

The social attitudes, norms and circumstances that influence such perspective

Due to advanced technology, sex selection culture has become popular and this has had a negative impact on females. Parents who are able to access technology have the ability of controlling the sex of their children; hence, they are able to escape the societal stigma of failing to give birth to a son. Many parents avoid giving birth to girls since they are viewed as individuals not worth living .Parents perceive that sex selection gives them the ability to choose what type of children they want in terms of sex. However, this process equates children to products (Webb, 2014).

Sex selection can make parents not to accept some of their shortcomings; hence, lowering the child’s self esteem. Having a strong preference for a specific sex can cause harm for the unwanted sex including rejection and killings to avoid societal blames and eliminate shame. However, proponents of this idea argue that it is normal for such ideas to be rejected at the first instance especially when people are unfamiliar with the idea.

Those opposing the idea of sex selection argue that that having children is not a right that one can put conditions to as children should be viewed as gifts from God (De Melo-Martín, 2013). These arguments are based on our cultural beliefs.

According to Caulfield & Brownsword (2012), traditional patterns of giving gifts recommend that a gift should be taken without putting any condition to it. A gift is something should be accepted unconditionally and the same case applies to children. From a cultural perspective, sex selection promotes the idea of treating children as a commodity, which is more or less similar to buying and selling of children. Choosing some of the features one wants is acceptable only to products like cars or other commodities, but this concept does not apply to human beings. Therefore, sex selection is often used to discriminate a specific gender.

Justification of specific actions in relation to human dignity

Proponents of sex selection argue that everyone has the right to live his life as he pleases so as long as the person does not cause harm or infringe upon other peoples’ rights. The harm principle implies that individuals opposing sex selection need to prove that the action is going to cause harm to others.  In this case, sex selection does not cause harm to anybody. Proponents of sex selection argue that the practice is considered harmful based on sociological and psychological assumptions .They further argue that sex selection is an act that is contrary to religious or moral beliefs (Smolin, 2013).

A report by The Task Force on ethics and laws highlights the common objection arguments used to reject the idea of sex selection. The report indicates that sex selection is compared to mocking God. However, such arguments have been applied to all medical innovations. . It started by rejecting the use of chloroform to relieve pain associated with childbirth. This act was viewed as going against God’s will. Such arguments also applied to the use of inoculation (Li & Pantano, 2013).

Ironically, previous medical innovations viewed as going against God’s will have become part of acceptable medical practices; hence, such objections have not been taken seriously. In fact, such arguments are considered as religious claims .Proponents of sex selection argue that individuals should only refrain from the idea if it contravenes their religious beliefs, but laws should not be imposed on people based on other people’s religious views (Dondorp et al, 2013).

Human dignity that can be jeopardized by actions arising from this perspective

            Defining human dignity based on our expression of choices affects public opinion about such ideas. If these perspectives are not comprehensively analyzed through research, public opinion will be flawed. The main concern is that people can use limited philosophical analysis to influence policy discussions .

The definition of human dignity should not be derived from the fact that it is an individual choice, but the practice should be viewed from both public and professional bioethical discussions as recommended by Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproduction (Medicine, 2015).

Human dignity as a societal inherent value

In the second perspective, it is worth noting that the society often values children’s inherent worth. This limits some of the parents’ choices regarding gender selection. Parents who consider gender selections are said not to uphold societal norms and values which is the societal description for human dignity. According to McGowan & Sharp (2013), parents who select their children’s sex because of non-medical reasons are considered to be immoral in the eyes of the society.

From this perspective, human dignity is viewed as pride in oneself or having the sense of self worth as a human being to live a meaningful life .Therefore, any situation that compromises or humiliates this position is considered as a threat to human dignity. Choosing a particular gender over the other for non-medical reasons places expectations on a specific child, and this fails to recognize the personhood of an individual.

Therefore, sex selection fails to adhere to individual inherent characteristics .Children are often viewed as their parent’s property yet they are their own person .Putting too much expectations on the selected children does not give them the respect they deserve; hence, making them not to be autonomous as human beings are supposed to be (Claassens et al., 2013).

Parents who select the sex of their children view their children as a different person instead of the individual the child is suppose to be. Wudarczyk et al (2013) argues that choosing the sex of a child is failing to respect the human intrinsic values of the individual child. In summary, children need to be valued based on their intrinsic worth as human beings. In other words, the values of children should not be attached to specific characteristics.

Social attitudes, norms and circumstances that influence such perspective

In western societies, there is no preferred sex, but selection of sex is based on creating gender balance in the family by having both boys and girls. These common occurrences are observed in Australia, Sweden, and the UK. Even though sex selection does not have negative effects in these countries, Asian countries like China, Korea and India are faced with challenges associated with sex selection due to cultural beliefs. These countries prefer boys to girls and this has led to  more than 10 million abortions within the last 20 years (Moskovian, 2013).

Activists in Asia are calling for the ban of sex selection. However, due to the different reasons parents in the UK and India have for choosing the sex of their children, banning sex selection which is a worldwide practice will not change the situation especially in India. So long as there are religious and economic incentives attached to boys, banning sex selection will not have any effect especially in Asian countries.

Given the fact that majority of UK population would still prefer their first children to be boys, sex selection technology will be misused to fulfill desires of these parents. In Asian countries, banning sex selection will not change the cultural norms being practiced in these regions (Dyal, 2014).

Justification of specific actions in relation to human dignity

There are claims doing rounds that sex selection does not promote the inherent human value, and this is considered as an intuitive reaction, but not a reasonable moral response. The fact that certain human actions are unnatural does not necessary make these actions morally wrong. For example, heart transplant is unnatural but it is meant to save human life (De Melo-Martin, 2013).

The fact that those opposed to the claims that selection of sex should be applicable for medical purposes are not considerate to the fact that medical technologies helps couples with sex-linked genetic disorder to bear a healthy child. This does not translate to misuse of technology to fulfill their personal desires. Furthermore, those in support of sex selection argue that this practice eliminates girls in a humane way as compared to other methods like abortion or neglect, meaning that girls whose birth can be avoided will not be exposed to oppression or discrimination (Tregenza-Parker, 2013).

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In the current health care systems, physicians provide services that do not have direct medical benefits, but add value to individuals who seek for such services like cosmetic surgeries and ultrasound. The same view is applicable when it comes to sex selection. Offering sex selection services is also viewed as misuse of limited medical resources, but offering other services like face-lifts is not considered as s misallocation of limited medical resources. According to WHO Press (2011), the idea of sex selection has been misrepresented in most cases.

The most common argument is that sex selection causes social imbalances of sexes in India and China. The concern whether sex ratio is a threat to the western societies is more of a intuitive reaction devoid of concrete evidence .The idea of calling sex selection a sexist sin is not justifiable because most parents who prefer choosing the sex of their children do so based on the fact that they are motivated by the idea of having children from both sexes. People who believe that raising a boy is different from a girl are those who base their thinking on cultural values of children whereby girls are considered to be different from boys (Cooley &Chesnokova,2011).

Human dignity that can be jeopardized by actions arising from this perspective

The facts that arguments against sex selection are more about their consequences, these arguments are based on assumptions; hence, it is not easy to prevent some of the consequences from happening. It is not essay to draw legal lines to permit some forms of sex selection while limiting others. The main worry in such a situation is how parents are likely to spend their money on technology to ensure that their children are born with the specifications they want.

This can often lead to misuse of technology. The other concern is that if sex selection is acceptable, it will make one sex preferable than the other. As a result, it will make it hard to promote anti-discriminatory measures in several countries (Lee, 2016).


It not surprising that sex selection is controversial. , Different people justify their reasons for gender selection viewing it as a desirable practice that seeks to fulfill societal norms. Others view sex selection as a practice that reinforces discrimination while at the same time it goes against the inherent nature of human value. These two perspectives can describe human dignity from different views.

The case study of sex selection helps us to understand some of the social attitudes, norms and circumstances that can influence our choices and how sex selection from these two perspectives can impact on our understanding of human dignity based on the justification presented in support of this action.

Some of the justifications presented in the essay are likely to influence the perception of individuals in understanding the meaning of human dignity; hence, influencing our actions. In conclusion, it is important to define human dignity from a multi-dimensional perspective as compared to defining it from isolated arguments to accurately establish its meaning.


Caulfield, T., & Brownsword, R. (2012). Human dignity: a guide to policy making in the Biotechnology era? Nature Reviews Genetics, 7(1), 72-76.

Chapman, A. R., & Benn, P. A. (2013). Noninvasive prenatal testing for early sex identification: A few benefits and many concerns. Perspectives in biology and medicine, 56(4), 530-547.

Claassens, J. et al (2013). Searching for Dignity: Conversations on human dignity, theology and disability. Toronto. Sun media.

De Melo-Martín, I. (2013). Sex selection and the procreative liberty framework. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 23(1), 1-18.

Dondorp, W., De Wert, G., Pennings, G., Shenfield, F., Devroey, P., Tarlatzis, B., & Diedrich,

K. (2013). ESHRE Task Force on ethics and Law 20: sex selection for non-medical reasons. Human Reproduction, 28(6), 1448-1454.

Cooley, D. & Chesnokova, I. (2011). Sex Selection Abortion in Kazakhstan: Understanding a Cultural Justification, Developing World Bioethics 11, (3). 159–60.

De Melo-Martin, I. (2013). The Ethics of Sex Selection. Ethics and Emerging Technologies, 90.

Dyal, M. (2014). Whether sex-selection for non-medical reasons, using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, should be permitted in the UK. University of Birmingham.

Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (2015). Use of Reproductive technology for sex selection for nonmedical reasons. Fertility and Sterility, 103(6), 1418-1422.

Kalfoglou, A. L. et al (2013). Ethical arguments for and against sperm sorting for non-medical sex selection: a review. Reproductive biomedicine online, 26(3), 231-239.

Lee, M. Y. K. (2016). From the case of sex discrimination to the ideas of equality and equal opportunities. In Ethical Dilemmas in Public Policy (pp. 111-127). Springer Singapore.

Li, Q., & Pantano, J. (2013). The Demographic Consequences of Gender Selection Technology. Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 95, (5): 1549–1561.

McGowan, M. L., & Sharp, R. R. (2013). Justice in the context of family balancing. Science, Technology & human values, 38(2), 271-293. Current opinion in psychiatry, 26(5), 474.

Tregenza-Parker, G. (2013). Sex Selection for Family Balancing? A Legal and Ethical Analysis.

Smolin, D. M. (2013). Sex Selection, the Missing Girls of China and India, and the Challenges of Technological Control of Procreation. Regent JL & Pub. Pol’y, 6, 49.

Moskovian, A. (2013). Bans on Sex-Selective Abortions: How Far is Too Far?. Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, 40(2).

Mudde ,A. (2010).‘Before You Formed in the Womb I Knew You’: Sex Selection and Spaces of Ambiguity, Hypatia 25 (3).563–64.

Webb, D. C. (2014). The Sex Selection Debate: A Comparative Study of Sex Selection Laws in the United States and the United Kingdom. South Carolina Journal of International Law and Business, 10(1), 6.

WHO Press (2011). World Health Organization, Preventing Gender-based Sex Selection: An Interagency Statement OHCHR, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO. Geneva. WHO Press

Wudarczyk, O. al (2013). Could intranasal oxytocin be used to enhance relationships? Research imperatives, clinical policy, and ethical considerations.

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