In this paper we explore lay people's discussions of the controversial topic of social sex selection (SSS). In the UK and many other countries, SSS is prohibited by law. In 2003 the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, after an extensive public consultation, decided against changing the existing legislation. However, this initiative and similar consultation exercises have been criticised on the grounds that public opinion is poorly informed and reasoned. In our study, one of the most consistently expressed ideas was that children should be regarded as ‘a gift’ rather than ‘a commodity’. In contrast, the ‘gift not a commodity’ argument is rarely cited positively in Anglo-American, secular-liberal bioethics. These metaphorical statements are condensed articulations of complex but coherent moral intuitions. Where much of the bioethics literature stresses parental autonomy, our lay discussants balanced this principle with ideas about the need to respect the personhood of the potential child, and the characteristics of a good parent. We conclude our analysis by considering the implications for expanding bioethics’ knowledge base and improving the input of lay people in bioethical decision making.