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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK
Britons 'would choose baby's sex'
Male and female sperm can be separated
More than one in five Britons would be prepared to pay over 1,000 to choose their baby's sex, a survey suggests.

Techniques exist which allow "male" sperm to be sorted from "female" sperm - increasing the chances of any baby being the desired sex.

German researchers questioned more than 1,000 Britons about "gender selection" - and found 21% prepared to pay for it.

The body which regulates UK fertility treatments is preparing a report to ministers on the issue.

At the moment, certain "sperm-sorting" techniques are legal in the UK because they involve fresh sperm, and use insemination rather than the creation of an embryo outside the body.

However, there have been fears that freely-available sex selection could, if popular, end up skewing the delicate balance between male and female births.

Little favouritism

The survey, by researchers at the University of Geissen, and published in the journal Human Reproduction, suggests that there is no risk of this happening, even if many couples decide to take advantage of the techniques.

In the UK, the vast majority of respondents - 68% - said they favoured an equal number of boys and girls in their family, and only 3% and 2% respectively said they would prefer only boys or girls.

In total, 6% said they would like more boys than girls, and 16% would prefer a first born girl.

However, only slightly fewer respondents said they wanted precisely the opposite to this - more girls than boys or a first born son - so the researchers believe that the effect on future boy/girl ratios would be negligible.

Dr Edgar Dahl, who led the study, said: "Much of the opposition to social 'sex' selection is based on the assumed danger of a sex ratio distortion due to a common preference for boys over girls.

"According to our surveys, this assumption seems to be unfounded."

Expensive choice

In the UK, offered the option of paying 1,250 per attempt for up to five insemination attempts using sorted sperm, 21% said they would like to do so, 7% were undecided, and 71% ruled it out.

A similar survey in Germany found that only 6% would take the opportunity.

Even in a hypothetical situation in which the Germans could take a blue pill and get a boy, and a pink pill and get a girl, nine out of ten rejected the idea.

Dr Dahl think that the social preference for a "balanced family" in the UK is to blame for this difference.

A spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which licences IVF clinics in the UK, said that its advice to the government on sex selection would be published before the end of the year.

She said: "Sex selection is not legal in the UK at present if it involves using sorted sperm in IVF techniques to create an embryo - but not if it involves insemination with fresh sperm."

Q&A: Sex selection
17 Oct 02  |  Health
Mum plans to select baby's sex
19 Sep 02  |  England

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