In Thailand, baby gender selection loophole draws China, HK women to IVF clinics

Tue Jul 15, 2014 6:03pm EDT
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By Byron Kaye and Khettiya Jittapong

SYDNEY/BANGKOK (Reuters) - At 26, with a baby daughter, a Hong Kong mother and her husband wanted a second child. To make sure it would be a boy, they paid $9,000 and flew to Thailand, the last place in Asia where gender selection treatment is available and breaks no law.

"In Chinese tradition, a girl and a boy means good, perfect," said the mother, who requested anonymity. "There's nothing wrong with girls, but in Hong Kong and Chinese tradition all families like boys."

The mother is one of hundreds of women from mainland China, Hong Kong and Australia who visit Bangkok each year for in vitro fertilization (IVF) with the option of choosing the child's gender by discarding fertilized eggs, or embryos, of the unwanted sex. The only other countries where the technique is permitted and available are the United States and South Africa - in both cases at a higher financial cost.

The dozen or so clinics that offer the service in Bangkok say it gives parents the chance to "balance" the genders in their growing families, but medical authorities want the practice banned.

The Medical Council of Thailand, an independent agency that supervises the country's medical system, says it could encourage embryo trafficking.

Still, its efforts to stop IVF gender selection have been complicated by a number of factors. It has no powers to prevent clinics providing the service because there is no law governing its practice in Thailand. Despite years of lobbying, the issue has remained low on the list of political priorities for successive governments – a point underlined by Thailand's latest political upheaval and military coup.

In standard IVF practice, a woman's eggs are removed and fertilized before being returned to the womb. In gender selection IVF, only embryos of the desired gender are implanted, a practice mostly shunned amid concerns about couples making a choice on the right to life based on gender.

"Sex selection for non-medical reasons is not encouraged, but neither is it prohibited in the U.S., according to the latest guidelines," the American Medical Association says on its Website. As in Thailand, South Africa currently has no legal provision governing the technique.   Continued...