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Fetal Sex Tests Unethical - NZMA

The New Zealand Medical Association is advising doctors that it is unethical to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of fetal sex alone, except in cases of a sex-related disease.

The NZMA Board has adopted the following policy in relation to determining the sex of a fetus in pregnancy:

1. "There is no ethical objection to determining the sex of a fetus if it is done for a medical reason. The reason would usually be that there is the possibility of a serious sex-linked inherited condition.
2. It is unethical to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of fetal sex alone, except in cases of a sex-related disease."

This issue arose after the Family Planning Association alerted the NZMA that it had become aware that some parents, of particular ethnic groups, had approached doctors to organise procedures early in pregnancy so that the sex of a fetus could be determined. The intention was to abort a fetus if it was of a given sex (usually a girl), NZMA Chairman Dr John Adams explained.

The NZMA Ethics Committee considered the issue carefully and advised the Board that it is unethical to terminate a pregnancy purely on the basis of the sex of a fetus, where the fetus is otherwise healthy and normal.

"This practice is not believed to be common in New Zealand, but there is some anecdotal advice that it has been sought," said NZMA Chairman Dr John Adams. "Determining the sex of a fetus is common in several overseas countries, particularly India, China and Russia, where girl babies are less valued than boys."

Some older pregnant women or those with a family history of hereditary problems can undergo a medical procedure which is used to check fetuses for chromosomal abnormalities. It can also identify the sex of the fetus. They may consider a termination if the test results show the fetus has an inherited genetic condition.

"It is unethical for a doctor to be involved if the testing is carried out with a view to terminating the pregnancy if the fetus is of an undesired sex," Dr Adams said.

In India there has been a steady decline in the ratio of females to males over the last century because of similar practices. The 1991 census found 927 females for every 1000 males. In some Indian states there are as few as 600 females for every 1000 males. The Indian Medical Association has declared that no medical practitioners should involve themselves in sex determination tests, which have been illegal since 1994 but are still widespread

ENDS

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