Last month a Parliamentary committee recommended that British couples who conceive by IVF be allowed to choose the sex of their offspring.
Sex selection is an interesting bioethical issue. Sex selection in during IVF is an especially interesting variant because the ethics of the practice aren't confounded by the abortion issue.
There might be good policy reasons to prohibit in vitro sex selection, even if we agree that it's permissible in the abstract. That's because it would be irresponsible to let the sex ratio drift too far from 50:50.
However, even if couples are allowed to select during IVF, IVF itself is unlikely to account for more than a fraction of the births in the UK. The procedure is painful, expensive, and unreliable. It's safe to assume that most people will prefer to make babies the old fashioned way. (Update: It was illustrative for me to consider the examples of those who are trying to have babies with IVF because they don't have a choice. These include Hardscrabble, A Little Pregnant, and others. It's not an easy road, folks. Many thanks, Ol Cranky, for reminding me to emphasize that.)
Emily Bazelon writes in Slate:
The committee also concluded that in the U.K., there is little reason to think that allowing sex selection would much alter the overall male-female ratio. Its thinking on this score isn't particularly convincing, however. In a recent poll, only 16 percent of British respondents said they didn't care about the sex of their children.
I think Bazelon is making the mistake here. Sure, people care about the sex of their offspring. But that doesn't mean that everybody has the same preference. If the boy-preferrers equal the girl-preferrers, the demographic problem takes care of itself. Even if there's a preference one way or the other, there probably will never be enough IVF births to significantly affect the demographics.