As we slinked our way through the morning news we found this fascinating article, which will no doubt spark a lot of debate in the next few days.

The article tells us that The Department of Health has launched an enquiry into the allegation that doctors are agreeing to abort unborn babies on the basis of their gender. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley tells us in the news item that gender based abortion is illegal in the UK and “morally wrong”. But is it?

The law is clear: gender based abortions in the UK are not allowed and so doctors who practice such things are breaking the law. And whilst we would not want to terminate our unborn baby on the basis of gender, what moral reasons, other than the well established anti-abortion lobby’s arguments, could there be for denying parents the right to choose and isn’t restricting that right similar to China’s potentially morally dubious and pragmatically implemented one child policy?

Perhaps a more compelling argument against gender based abortion lies in the possible imbalances this might cause in relation to the number of men and women in the country. Countries like China and India have practiced gender based abortion as part of a wider set of policies and the results can and do alter the natural ratio of men to women, but whether the degree of alteration is significant is also an interesting issue in and of itself. Perhaps of greater concern is whether making sex selection illegal results in the neglect and even death of delivered babies, once they return home with their perhaps disappointed parents.

But where do we draw the line? Selection of eye colour, intelligence, body type? Yet, perhaps the line is already being drawn, underscored by more subtle practices, like parents choosing to go on special diets which are said to encourage one gender or another or simply going to a country where it is legal to have sex selection treatment.

Another thought-provoking area lies in the time of abortion: if gender based abortion was legal, how long after the embryo fertilizes should an abortion be allowed to take place and should this differ from the guidelines for perceived conventional types of abortion in any event? There are several more very interesting arguments both for and against sex selection in this article from Global Change and well worth a read. This article from the BBC’s website also explains the law in the UK and the increasing trend, even back in 2003 of families going abroad to use sex selection services.

Perhaps it all boils down to the reasons for sex selection. At the moment, sex selection is allowed if there is a chance of a baby carrying a genetic disease which affects only males. (The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority were asked to review the law in this area in 2003 and this policy makes up part of their findings).

But what if we lived in a world where something happened to the female population and we desperately needed to re-populate, what then? Would the government be forced to legalise sex selection, even make it mandatory? And how will our own, perhaps changing views, on playing God affect our perceptions of genetic discrimination and our views on the world around us in the future?  There are certainly reasons why this fascinating area needs some thorough thinking done on it.

What do you think? Should sex selection be legalised or is the State justified in suppressing our right to choose?

Kolhapur, Maharashtra: In Some Parts of the World It is Illegal to Disclose the Gender of a Baby Before He or She is Born