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EDITIONS
Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Baby sex choice 'a step closer'
Baby playing
Couples could choose whether to have a boy or a girl
Parents in the UK could one day be allowed to use fertility techniques to choose their baby's sex, suggests a document seen by the BBC.

The suggestion is to be included in a consultation document from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which is due to be published in the next few days.

This could mean techniques now only allowed on medical grounds could be used for so-called "family balancing."

This is when a couple which has children of one gender wants to have one of the other to "balance" out their family.

At the moment, couples have to go abroad for the procedure.


It should never be tolerated under any circumstances whatsoever

Josephine Quintavalle
The HFEA is asking the public to submit their views on the issue.

When the organisation last surveyed public opinion nine years ago, it found there was no backing for people to be able to choose the gender of their child.

However, scientific developments since then has seen the range and effectiveness of techniques improve.

And couples from the UK are able to access treatments, such as the Microsort procedure, which is available in the US.

It emerged on Thursday that six couples referred there by a UK clinic had had healthy babies after the treatment.

'Acceptability'

The HFEA will ask in its document whether that and similar treatments should be available in the UK, and if so, if they should be regulated.

Couples can offer sex selection to couples if there is a risk of a gender-linked genetic condition, such as haemophilia, muscular dystrophy or colour blindness.

Ann Furedi, of the HFEA, told the BBC: "The HFEA confirms that it is preparing to launch a public consultation on the acceptability of sex selection.

"The initiative is in response to a request from the government. A consultation document will be published on Wednesday 23 October. "

Dr Simon Fischel, director of Centres for Assisted Reproduction said he would back extending the use of sex selection for social as well as medical grounds.

"A lot of what we do is through patient demand. The treatment of infertility is that in itself. Patients are suffering from a disease, and they want the opportunity to overcome that particular problem.

"Some would argue that using it for gender selection is not a disease, so clearly it comes out of a medical domain, but the demand is still there.

'Acceptibility'

He accepted that some had concerns about interfering with "divinity" or there is no gender devaluation, where families want all girls or all boys.


One has to ask the question, what harm does that do society? In my view, very little

Dr Simon Fischel
But Dr Fischel said if he was certain there was no gender devaluation going on and that the child would be wanted and loved, he would back family balancing.

"Under those circumstances, within that family unit there is no harm. So one has to ask the question, what harm does that do society?

"In my view, very little."

And he warned, if the HFEA did not back the procedure, couples would still go abroad for treatment.

Dr Paul Rainsbury, consultant gynaecologist at the Rainsbury Clinic, who refers couples to America for the sperm sorting procedure, estimated he received 20 to 30 enquiries a month about social sex selection.

"There's been a big swing in favour of this, as there has been with IVF.

"We have to test the water of the general public because that is terribly important, and that is what we're doing."

Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said she was opposed to creating a "designer baby" of a certain sex.

"I think we are dealing with an absolute principle. It should never be tolerated under any circumstances whatsoever."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Karen Allen
"Some see this as designer babies by another name"
Mother of four boys Nicola Chenery
"I see this as family balancing"
Fertility specialist Dr Paul Rainsbury
"Providing the technology is safe and proven I don't see any problem"

Key stories:
See also:

05 Jul 01 | Fertility conference 2001
19 Sep 02 | England
11 Sep 98 | Health
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