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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 11:45 GMT
Q&A: Fertility report
IVF sample
The MPs say the way IVF clinics are regulated should change
Couples undergoing IVF could be able to choose the sex of their baby under plans proposed by a group of MPs.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee raised the possibility in a wide ranging report into fertility services in the UK.

But many of the report's suggestions are controversial, and a number of the MPs on the committee did not support its publication.

Q: What does the report say?

One of its most eye-catching suggestions is that there is no evidence to suggest people who are having a baby through IVF should not be able to choose its sex, if they feel they need to "balance" their families.

At the moment in the UK, sex selection is only permitted if there are strict medical reasons. This could be because there is a serious sex-linked disorder in the family, such as Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy.

But the MPs say that people who, say, have all boys and want to have a girl should be able to do so.

Alan and Louise Masterton, from Monifieth, near Dundee, are one couple who desperately want a daughter.

They have four sons, and their daughter Nicole died in a bonfire accident aged three.

Q: What else did the committee's report look at?

It focussed on how fertility care should be regulated, and how new techniques or areas of research should be dealt with.

IVF, fertility clinics, and decisions about cloning embryos for medical purposes or creating "designer babies" to save a sick sibling, all currently come under the auspices of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

The HFEA's remit is based on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, published in 1990.

Since then, science has advanced beyond anything dreamt of 15 years ago, and there have been concerns that now means the HFEA is not the best organisation to perform all the roles currently assigned to it.

The Science and Technology Committee report says the HFEA should be abolished in its current form, and replaced with a Regulatory Agency for Fertility and Tissues, to inspect clinics and laboratories and ensure they meet 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 committee also says decisions about when to use technology to check embryos for genetic conditions, or to see if they are a match for a sick sibling should be made by patients and doctors, and overseen by local ethics committees, rather than by a national watchdog.

Q: Did the report consider cloning?

Yes. It touched on several areas of controversial research.

It said scientists should not shy away from difficult subjects which might be considered "taboo".

It says research using embryos can continue, and the existing laws which say they cannot be allowed to develop past 14-days should remain.

But it does not back reproductive cloning.

The report does deals with research using animal/human "chimeras", where human cells are placed into animal foetuses.

This only happens in the laboratory and no living being is created in this way.

The MPs say research in this area, and any other such controversial area of study, should not be outlawed without consideration, but should be evaluated to see if it should be permitted under regulation.

Q: Were any other issues considered?

Several areas were touched on, including calls for Parliament to have a debate on the abortion law, criticism of plans to remove sperm and egg donors' right to anonymity from next month, and a recommendation to remove the need to assess people who want to undergo IVF, under welfare of the child rules.

Q: How does the UK compare to other countries?

The UK has a relatively strong system of regulation,.

There are less strict systems elsewhere, so some couples who have wanted to create a "designer baby" or "saviour sibling" have had to go to the US for treatment.

In addition, there are fears that "fertility tourists" may travel to clinics in unregulated countries in Eastern Europe.

Q: Did everyone back the MPs' report?

No. It was extremely controversial, causing a split in the committee which put it together.

Five MPs - half of the committee - believe it goes too far and say it "ignores the dignity of human life".

They say it is "completely out of step with public opinion and any concept of ethics and dignity of human life."

Geraldine Smith, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said: "This is on par with a Frankenstein report. It is outrageous."

The organisation Comment on Reproductive Ethics called the MPs' suggestions "brave new world proposals" and said the UK public was not in favour of designer babies, social sex selection, animal-human hybrids or human reproductive cloning.

The HFEA said it was pleased the MPs recognised the need for an independent regulator.

'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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