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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 09:06 GMT
Parents 'could pick babies' sex'
Baby yawning
Parents could be permitted to select their baby's sex
Couples undergoing IVF could be allowed to select the sex of their baby under proposals put forward by MPs.

A controversial Commons Science and Technology Committee report said more decisions on fertility treatment should be made by patients and their doctors.

The MPs also called for the regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, to be disbanded.

And they said "taboo" research, such as implanting human cells into animals, should be considered, with regulation.

It makes a number of bold and challenging recommendations
Suzi Leather, HFEA

However, the report caused a severe split among MPs on the committee, with half refusing to back its conclusions.

The report looks at issues across the field of reproductive health.

It said there was no "compelling evidence" to prohibit couples undergoing IVF being able to choose to have a girl or boy if that was what they felt was necessary to "balance out" their family.

Fertility expert Lord Robert Winston said he could not see issues with parents being able to choose their babies' sex, and that the numbers who would want to do so would be very small.

He told BBC Radio 4: "People will not go through IVF to choose the sex of their baby and even if they did it would not in any way, I think, damage the fabric of our society."

KEY POINTS
Sex selection should not be ruled out
Fertility watchdog should be replaced
Abortion law should be reviewed by Parliament
Strict regulation for new areas of research
Plans to remove anonymity from sperm donors attacked

The MPs also suggest there should no longer be a need to consider the suitability of parents under "welfare of the child" considerations when approving couples for IVF treatment, because it is discriminatory.

The committee's report also said that decisions about whether to allow embryos to be checked for genetic conditions, or to see if they are a match for a sick sibling - so-called "designer babies" - should be taken out of the hands of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Instead, patients and their doctors should decide if it should be used in their case, under the auspices of a local ethics committee, the report said.

Standards

Committee member Dr Evan Harris said: "This is no different to the way in which clinical decisions are made in other areas.

"We are 15 years down the line with IVF. It should no longer be treated differently."

There is absolutely no way that the public in the UK is in favour of designer babies, social sex selection, animal-human hybrids, human reproductive cloning, or any other brave new world proposal
Josephine Quintavalle, Comment on Reproductive Ethics

The report says the HFEA, which currently also oversees the work of fertility clinics and issues licenses for medical cloning research, should be disbanded.

It calls for a new body, a Regulatory Agency for Fertility and Tissues, to be set up in its place which would ensure clinics and laboratories maintained set technical and management standards.

It also says there should be stronger professional regulation, and more government and Parliamentary consideration of ethical and legal issues.

The MPs' report also says controversial areas of fertility research should not be shied away from.

It says the creation of so-called "chimeras", where human cells are placed into an animal foetus, could be useful for research, if created under strict regulations.

The report also attacks rules to be introduced on April 1 to remove anonymity from sperm and egg donors.

The Science and Technology committee did not unanimously back the report. Five MPs did not attend the meeting where the report was passed, and have called the final report "unbalanced".

And Josephine Quintavalle, speaking on behalf of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE),said: "There is absolutely no way that the public in the United Kingdom is in favour of designer babies, social sex selection, animal-human hybrids, human reproductive cloning, or any other brave new world proposal."

Life, said the report reflected "the personal agendas of certain members of the Committee and their advisers".

'Maintaining safety'

Alison Murdoch, chair of the British Fertility Society said it was appropriate that regulation of fertility services was consistent with that applied to other clinical treatments.

Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA, said the report made "bold and challenging recommendations".

She added: "The big question for the fertility and research sectors in the future is how we will maintain patient safety, public confidence and minimise risks from developing technologies."

Dr Michael Wilkes, Chairman of the British Medical Association Ethics committee said the association was opposed to sex selection for social reasons, and splitting the work of the HFEA.

A Department of Health spokesperson said it was reviewing the 1990 Act, and would consider the MPs' recommendations as part of that review."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why one father wanted to choose the sex of his child



SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Fertility report
24 Mar 05 |  Health
'We desperately want a girl'
12 Nov 03 |  Health
Should parents select their baby's sex?
24 Mar 05 |  Have Your Say


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