They have three sons already and the tragic death of their infant girl has left the woman "obsessed" – according to news reports – with having a girl.
Their case has been reviewed by an independent patient committee. It chose not to grant an exception to Victoria's prohibition on choosing the sex of a child except to avoid the transmission of a sex-linked genetic condition.
Australians remain strongly opposed to sex selection to fulfil a parental desire for pink or blue. Australian National University research recently showed that 80 per cent of us disapprove of abortion being used to choose a child's gender and 69 per cent disagree with using IVF for this purpose. Astoundingly, 76 per cent didn't think a hypothetical, risk-free pink or blue pill a woman could swallow prior to conception should be legal.
That public opinion is against sex selection for non-medical indications doesn't make it wrong. In the past, majorities have opposed race and gender equality. But it is interesting to consider people's reasons. The ANU team found that worries about skewing the sex ratio, affirming gender discrimination and discomfort with parental attitudes (of the "they should be grateful to have a healthy child" variety) were key.
China and India serve as potent warnings about the cost to women and societies where selection against female embryos and foetuses is tolerated. It is estimated that one in seven Indian girls is eliminated before birth, while some Chinese researchers warn the millions of "missing girls" herald a "social and demographic disaster of major proportions".
The preference for boys is not as strong in the West but, where parents express a preference, it is more commonly for a boy. Boys are consistently preferred as the first child – especially by men – a birth order that some argues confers advantage.
But even if the collective consequence of allowing individual parents to choose their child's gender did not result in a gender-skewed or less gender-egalitarian society, there may still be ethical problems.
"Who is [it] going to harm if this couple have their desire fulfilled?" Australian IVF pioneer Gab Kovacs asked recently.
Kovacs is right to identify desire as the central moral conundrum posed by sex selection in countries like Australia. This is because, apart from medical indications, there is no reason to offer it to parents other than that they want it. They want it for reasons that matter a lot to them, but speak little to the interests of society or the child to be born.
Liberal democratic societies like ours are obliged not to interfere with an individual's pursuit of her desires, as long as this pursuit doesn't not impede the similar rights of others, or society's capacity to guarantee this freedom for all.
In contrast, any claim that society is obliged to fulfil the desires of all its citizens is ridiculous.
We do, and should, take responsibility for meeting the healthcare needs of all Australians and Australians-to-be. That is why sex selection can be used to help parents avoid passing on genetic problems and why rejection of the couple's plea to bend the law was, for many reasons, the right call.