Impact Ethics

Sex Selection


Cattapan, A. (19 Apr 2016). Sex-selective abortion is about more than wishing for male children. TVO.

Balkissoon, D. (15 Apr 2016). Attitudes, inequalities at root of ‘missing’ girls.The Globe and Mail.

Dwivedi, V. (15 Apr 2016). Sex-selective abortions: Strive for cultural understanding over outrage.The Globe and Mail

Cattapan, A. Interview with Tremonti, A.M. (13 Apr 2016). Indo-Canadian couples choosing sons over daughters: study. The Current.

Leung, W. (11 Apr 2013). Some couples in Canada practising prenatal sex selection in favour of male fetuses, studies suggest. The Globe and Mail.

La Rose, Lauren. (3 Mar 2016). Chrissy Teigen’s choice of female embryo re-sparks sex selection debate. CTV News.

Hendl, T. (23 Aug 2015). Choosing children's sex is an exercise in sexism. The Conversation.

Orr, C. (10 Jul 2015). Eliminating intersex babies is not a legitimate use of genetic embryos testing. The Guardian.


White, P.M. (14 Apr 2016). Canada is a booming foreign surrogacy destination.Impact Ethics

Kayali Browne, T. (16 Sept 2015). Parent planning – We shouldn’t be allowed to choose our children’s sex. The Ethics Centre (National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia).

Wilkinson, S., & Garrard, E. (19 Aug 2013). Embryo sex selection shouldn't be illegal.Impact Ethics

Cattapan, A. (13 Aug 2013). Rethinking sex selection: A feminist critique. Impact Ethics.

Mercer, M. (7 May 2013). Is sex-selective abortion worse than sex-selective coitus?Impact Ethics.


Urquia, M.L., Moineddin, R., Jha, P., O'Campo, P.J., McKenzie, K., Glazier, Henry, D.A. & Ray, J.G. (11 Apr 2016). Sex ratios at birth after induced abortion.CMAJ,  doi: 10.1503/cmaj.151074.

Anonymous. (2016). About sex selection. Center for Genetics & Society.

Bhatia, R. (2014). Cross-border sex selection: Ethical challenges posed by a globalizing practice. International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, 7:2, 185-218.

Seaville-Klein, V., & Sherwin, S. (2007). The myth of the gendered chromosome: Sex selection & social interest. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 16(1), 7-19.


In April 2016, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published two related studies. One study was on sex ratios (PDF – 281 KB) at birth after induced abortion in Ontario and the other study was on the variation between male-female infant ratios among Canadian- and Indian-born mothers who gave birth in Canada. These studies showed a higher than expected ratio of male to female infants among the third children of Indian-born Canadian women, particularly when these women already had two daughters. The studies also showed a link between induced abortions and the sex ratio among infants born to Indian-born Canadian women. Thereby, these studies suggested that sex selection may be occurring in this population.

In a CBC radio interview on these studies, Alana Cattapan noted that prenatal sex selection followed by elective termination, and embryo sex selection involving preimplantation genetic diagnosis or other technologies raise different ethical issues and call for different policy approaches. In Canada, embryo sex selection is prohibited by law (see below), except in cases of sex-linked disorder or disease. Cattapan argued against introducing a legal prohibition on sex-selective abortion in Canada saying that women should not be interrogated about their reason(s) for requesting an abortion.


Issues of sex selection arise in two distinct contexts of human reproduction: testing of the fetus in an established pregnancy, and embryo selection/creation as part of the process of in vitro fertilization to initiate a pregnancy.

While the Society for Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada has policies against prenatal testing for the sole purpose of identifying the sex of the fetus (PDF – 42.5 KB), there is no law in Canada to prevent sex-selective abortion. In a 2012 editorial (PDF – 50.5 KB) in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, then-editor Rajendra Kale suggested introducing restrictions on disclosure of the fetus’ sex until the last trimester, when abortion is no longer available. He argued that a policy only allowing for disclosure of sex after 30 weeks of pregnancy was a reasonable ethical compromise to prevent sex selection by abortion. As Cattapan argues, however, “[r]estricting disclosure might work to reduce the number of women seeking abortions following the identification of fetal sex, but it will do little to make those pregnancies wanted.”

As for embryo sex selection, there are different assisted reproductive technologies that can be used. These include sperm sorting and intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization with preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Performing a procedure to increase the chances of creating an embryo of a specific sex or choosing an embryo for transfer on the basis of sex is illegal in Canada (AHRA 5(1)e), “except to prevent, diagnose or treat a sex-linked disorder or disease.” The law, however, does not stop Canadians from accessing such procedures outside of Canada. In 2012, the newspaper Indo-Canadian Voice (based near Vancouver, B.C.) published an advertisement for sex selection using preimplantation genetic diagnosis at a fertility clinic near Seattle.

From an ethics perspective it is important to recognize that often when we speak of sex selection in the context of human reproduction what we really are talking about is gender selection. And, in a Canadian context, it is also important to recognize that ‘sex selection’ and the privileging of gender is ongoing, and reaches well-beyond the Indo-Canadian community. Recognizing the above, it is important to critically examine how ‘sex selection’ reinforces problematic assumptions about the binary and traditional mapping of gender and sex.

Finally, it is worth noting that ‘sex selection’ is but one extreme of a continuum of sex discrimination practices prevalent throughout Canadian society that undergird injustices rooted in resulting forms of male privilege.

Last updated: June 2016