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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 18:03 GMT
Many parents 'would choose baby's sex'
Babies
Some families want to 'balance' their families
Over a third of parents would use IVF technology to choose their baby's gender, US surveys have shown.

A review of research by the US Presidential Council on Bioethics found that up to 35% of parents and prospective parents would use sex selection, if it was widely available.

The figure emerged as the UK fertility watchdog surveys public opinion to see if it backs parents' right to select their child's sex for social, rather than medical, reasons.

It wants to know if there is widespread support for the concept of "family balancing".

This is where parents with children of one gender want to have one of the other to "balance" out their family.

Anyone who wished to have access to the treatment should be entitled to do so

Ian Lucas MP
Suzi Leather, chair of the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which is holding the consultation, told BBC News Online she was surprised the proportion of parents who would consider sex selection was so high.

"It was more than I would have expected.

"Between a quarter and a third of people say they are going to use it.

"If only some of those people use it, it still indicates there would be a very big market demand.

"I don't think this is a small issue. It's potentially a very big issue."

Equal access

Ms Leather was speaking after a debate with MPs at the House of Commons held as part of the consultation process, which began in October.

Mori is to carry out a survey of 2,000 people as part of the consultation process, but the HFEA said it was unlikely to ask if parents would use sex selection themselves.

Ian Lucas, Labour MP for Wrexham, said if sex selection was to be allowed, there would have to be equality of access for all those who wanted it.

He told the debate: "Anyone who wished to have access to the treatment should be entitled to do so.

"The difficulty is in resources. There's an important question of whether you allow this particular treatment to have priority over other treatments in our health service."

Concerns have been expressed that there could be a bias within ethnic groups towards selecting boy children, for cultural reasons.

But a HFEA spokeswoman said discussions with focus groups held before the consultation process began did not indicate that would be a problem.

She said a group made up of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had reflected the same diversity of opinion as other groups.

One Muslim father said of sex selection: "It's wrong for any reason. It's saying you know better than what Allah wanted for you."

'Trivial'

The consultation, which will end on January 22, has so far received 200 responses, mainly from individuals.

Sex selection techniques are currently allowed, but only for gender-linked genetic conditions such as haemophilia, muscular dystrophy or colour blindness.

If couples want to select the sex of their baby for social or cultural reasons, they must go abroad for the treatment.

Earlier this year it was revealed six couples referred to America by a UK clinic had had healthy babies after sex selection treatment.

When the HFEA last surveyed public opinion on sex selection nine years ago, it found people believed that to be a "trivial" reason.

But scientific advances and the availability of treatment abroad has led them to survey opinion again on whether sex selection should be allowed and whether it should be regulated.

Opinions from the focus groups showed people ranged from believing any interference with natural conception was wrong, to those who felt the status quo allowing sex selection should be allowed only for medical reasons.

A third group believed people should have access to whatever technology is available, providing it does not harm parents or their children.

See also:

17 Oct 02 | Health
17 Oct 02 | Health
17 Oct 02 | Health
19 Sep 02 | England
05 Jul 01 | Fertility conference 2001
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