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Church body warns against ‘designer babies’

The media have raised the prospect of designer babies after a government advisory body made a recommendation that parents within in vitro fertilisation programmes should have the right to choose the sex of their child.

In response, the Interchurch Bioethics Council has released a statement saying it does not support sex selection except on medical grounds.

The government’s Bioethics Council (a different body to the Interchurch Bioethics Council) has released a report stating that when embryos are created outside the mother’s body, parents should be allowed to select the sex of the child.

In its view there are no major ethical, spiritual, or cultural reasons to prohibit sex selection of embryos for either medical or social reasons. This practice is banned in Australia and the UK though it is permitted in the US.

The Interchurch Bioethics Council (ICBC) represents the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches. ICBC chairperson Audrey Jarvis says ICBC disagrees with this judgement though it agrees sex-selection on medical grounds is justified.

"We do support pre-birth selection of embryos on medical grounds in the case of major illnesses etc. The decision to test and what to do with the results should be according to the wishes of the parents, as was said by the government’s Bioethics Council.

"Another concern we have is for the disabled community. They are concerned that this type of selection will devalue disabled people. It is important that all persons, disabled or not, are valued and seen as contributing to society. There should be full support for those who are disabled and their families and caregivers," Audrey says.

ICBC is concerned that sex selection for social reasons perpetuates a stereotype that the value of a child depends on its gender. It supports the comments of Professor Donald Evans, that New Zealand has made great strides towards gender equality and a just society, and these gains are potentially threatened by the concept of sex selection for social reasons.

The use of resources must also be considered. While the Report states that gender selection should be carried out at the parents' expense, there are limited resources in the health budget, and regardless of who pays for the procedure, the use of resources for unnecessary procedures reduces the availability of skilled clinicians, genetic counsellors and other health professionals.

For more information contact ICBC chair Audrey Jarvis at or 021 406 265 or (06) 357 3089.