Sydney Health Ethics "Conversation"
Next week (8 Nov): Anson Fehross

In next week's Sydney Health Ethics "Conversation" we will be welcoming Anson Fehross from the University of Sydney. Please come and join in the discussion.

Session: Thursday 8 November 2018, 12-1pm, Sydney Health Ethics, Level 2 meeting room (#5211), Medical Foundation Bldg

Title:  Samaritans at the gates: sex determination, values, and the ethics of informational gatekeeping

Abstract:  It is now commonplace for doctors to provide fetal sex information to prospective parents during routine ultrasounds. In two recent articles, Tamara Browne has argued that this practice should stop. She argues that, insofar as most people harbour the erroneous belief that sex determines gender, parents will necessarily draw incorrect inferences from the fetal sex information they are given. Specifically, they will conclude that certain kinds of parental experiences will be unavailable to them: a father who is looking forward to playing baseball with his child will relinquish this expectation upon learning that his prospective child’s sex is female. The provision of sex information to parents thus has two undesirable consequences. First, by encouraging parents to make decisions for their child based on their sex, not only does the practice indulge gender essentialism, it re-entrenches it. Second, insofar as parents are unaware that pervasive sexist errors are influencing their decision-making, their decisions will not be truly autonomous.

Browne’s argument represents an instance of what I term ‘informational gatekeeping’, whereby information that is prone to induce damaging forms of misunderstanding is withheld by medical professionals to best serve the interests of patients. I argue that we cannot gatekeep sex information as Browne suggests. My argument is that prospective parents are not simply making a factual error when they conflate sex information with gender information—in many cases they are making a value judgement about what kind of gendered parenting experiences they consider worth having. As I will argue, we cannot informationally gatekeep in such cases because it would amount to imposing a set of values upon the patient which they may not share (or, indeed, actively reject).

Still, not all is lost. I will suggest that medical professionals should nonetheless be actively engaged in challenging the values of those who hold gender essentialist viewpoints, rather than merely providing sex information on demand. This represents a positive step away from simply attempting to educate prospective parents about the limited nature of sex information. I will show how challenging patient values can help medicine combat sexism without necessitating gatekeeping.

Speaker bio: Anson Fehross is a PhD student at Sydney Health Ethics at the University of Sydney. He joined the centre in 2015, after completing a MSc in the Unit for History and Philosophy of Science. His thesis represents an attempt to develop an account of proxy decision-making in medical and psychiatric contexts which emphasises the central importance of values. His broader research focuses upon the interface between metaphysics and practical ethics.

Sydney Health Ethics “Conversation" 2018: COMING UP...

Please see below for the current schedule of upcoming speakers.  

  • Thursday, 15 November: Niels Buus, Andrea McCloughen, Kristof Mikes-Liu, Jo River 
  • Thursday, 22 November: Mia Harrison
  • Thursday, 29 November: Jonnie Kennedy

For more information about "Conversation" and other Sydney Health Ethics events, please visit our website or follow @SydHealthEthics.