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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
'Legalise IVF sex selection'
Dr David McCarthy says a ban is not justified
People should have the legal right to use fertility treatments to choose the sex of their child, a leading philosopher has said.

Dr David McCarthy, of the University of Bristol, says that the controversial practice of sex selection should be made legal in the UK.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Dr McCarthy argues that there are no good reason for legally restricting sex selection.

Defenders of the legality of sex selection are not seeking to restrict anyone's liberty, whereas opponents are

Dr David McCarthy
The development of two techniques has recently made it possible to chose the sex of a foetus without the use of abortion.

One of these, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, using in vitro fertilisation (IVF), is almost 100% accurate.

But at present, medically assisted sex selection for non-medical reasons is banned in the UK, Canada, and two states in Australia.


Children are a precious gift, and should be accepted totally unconditionally

Rachel Heath
Dr McCarthy says that those who claim it is immoral and unnatural need not opt for it themselves, but should not attempt to stop others from using the technology if they wish.

This would be rather like the stance taken on abortion, considered by some to be morally wrong, but which is legal, and considered by most people to be the woman's prerogative.

Opponents of sex selection argue that it could lead to an artificial imbalance between the number of boys and girls being born.

But Dr McCarthy argues that previous research suggests that most people want to use sex selection to have a balanced family, so legalising it would be unlikely to have much impact on the sex ratio

He also points out that the procedure is too expensive to be available to many couples.

"Banning it because we don't understand it might be common enough in politics, but that is little to recommend it."

He also dismisses the notion that sex selection would lead to a more sinister form of eugenics.

Dr McCarthy argues that there are many reproductive choices we can make, for instance the timing of parenthood to fit in with careers, the decision not to have children at all, or to terminate a pregnancy, and to have children outside the confines of marriage.

We generally do not see these as the State's business to interfere with or restrict, he argues, so why should sex selection be any different?

"Defenders of the legality of sex selection are not seeking to restrict anyone's liberty, whereas opponents are."

Dr McCarthy's comments were dismissed by the pro-life charity Life.

Rachel Heath, assistant director of education for the charity, said: "Children are a precious gift, and should be accepted totally unconditionally.

"We are concerned that children are increasingly being seen as commodities to be manufactured to specification as though they can be taken off the supermarket shelf."

See also:

05 Jul 01 | Health
Why choose a baby's sex?
05 Jul 01 | Fertility conference 2001
Concern over baby sex 'guarantee'
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