A New Zealand Catholic agency has attacked proposals to change the law to allow couples in IVF programs to choose the sex of their child.
The Age reports parents involved in IVF programs could soon be allowed to choose the sex of their child if the government follows the advice of its Bioethics Council.
The council, a ministerial advisory committee, this week handed the government a key report which said individuals were in the best position to make decisions about sex selection.
But the stance has drawn fire from the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre, which said parenthood was not about "ordering" children to meet specifications.
The report - titled Who Gets Born? - says the gender of embryos created outside the mother's body under programs such as IVF should be chosen by parents, allowing them to gender balance their families, The New Zealand Herald newspaper reported.
The council's recommendations relate specifically to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, when embryos are created outside the womb so they can be tested for likely inherited genetic conditions.
Under laws introduced in 2004, sex selection is banned in New Zealand except where it is part of treatment for a genetic disorder or disease.
It is also banned in Australia and the United Kingdom, but is allowed in the United States.
In New Zealand, those who break the law can be jailed for up to five years or fined up to $NZ200,000 ($A160,000).
The New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre said the report had acknowledged but put aside concerns about parents using genetic tests for social reasons.
"From a Catholic perspective all embryos are equal and deserve unconditional respect," spokesmen Michael McCabe and John Kleinsman said.
"Our role, as parents, is to welcome our children in an unconditional way.
"The proper role of pre-birth testing is to help the parents to prepare the best way they can for their new child or to enable medical interventions that are aimed at the well being of the child in-utero, not to eliminate certain types of children."
Associate Minister for the Environment Nanaia Mahuta said ministers would consider the report's recommendations.
"The important thing is that the Bioethics Council has gone through a process to be able to present the issues and we will consider those issues and recommendations," Mahuta told reporters, saying she expected strong debate.
"There will be some tussle between individual responsibility, the responsibility of parents vis a vis the rights associated with the embryo, I think that's where most of the debate will be pitched."
The report also said research should be done into using embryos created in pre-birth testing to help sick siblings.
The Catholic Bioethics Council says that it is also worried that it is will become increasingly difficult for couples to exercise a choice not to be tested or to continue with a pregnancy in the light of test results indicating a disorder.
It says that the proper role of pre-birth testing is to help the parents to prepare the best they can for their new child or to enable medical interventions that are aimed at the well-being of the child in-utero, not to eliminate certain types of children.
"Sex selection for family balancing reasons takes us into new and uncharted territory," the agency says.
"It takes pre-birth testing out of a medical context and allows its use for non medical (social) reasons.
"We ask: 'What then stops parents using the technology for other non medical reasons that reflect nothing more than parental desires? Where will it stop? We believe that parenthood is about welcoming the children we are given rather that ordering them according to specific specifications.' There is a liberating truth in knowing the unconditional nature of our origin."
NZ IVF parents may get gender choice (The Age, 19/6/08)
Toi te Taio: The Bioethics Council Report - Who Gets Born? (Media Release, NZ Catholic Bioethics Centre, 19/6/08)