Page last updated at 05:16 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Parents queue to select baby gender

Hidden camera footage

A growing number of British couples are undergoing procedures at clinics overseas to determine the gender of their babies. However, as the BBC's Colette McBeth reports, this service is often offered illegally.

Like many a story, it started out with a simple conversation with a friend.

Is that really possible? I remember asking, before going straight home to my laptop and typing the words "gender selection" in the search engine.

My friend had told me she knew of someone who was going abroad to have a daughter through IVF.

The woman in question had two boys, both conceived naturally, but had a burning desire for a girl and didn't want to leave anything to chance.

Once on the internet, I was amazed to learn how many women not only wanted the same but felt so strongly about it.

I found whole websites devoted to discussion about where gender selection was legal (not the UK or most of Europe) and the cost of treatment (anything from 7,000 to 17,000).

Many patients who were planning to go abroad were completely confused as to where it was legal and where it wasn't

Women who had four boys but couldn't rest until they had a daughter, or three girls and desperately wanted a son.

And this wasn't a cultural thing. If anything, girls won over boys.

It is possible to almost guarantee the sex of a baby using IVF and a type of embryos screening called Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD).

In most countries, though, PGD is used only for medical reasons. So if there is a genetic disease which runs in boys, couples would be allowed to have PGD to implant only female embryos.

Website advert

Some countries, such as the US and Russia, do allow sex selection - but I quickly realised there was a problem with all of this.

Many patients who were planning to go abroad were completely confused as to where it was legal and where it wasn't.

And some clinics seemed to be profiting out of the confusion.

One such clinic is the Jinemed Center in Istanbul. It has a slick website and boasts the claim "life begins with us".

It was also advertising on a gender selection website. You could even plan a fortnight's break in the sun, tell your friends you're taking the family on holiday and go for IVF/PGD.

The only problem with all of that is that gender selection is illegal in Turkey.

No matter, I found many posts in which women said they'd had treatment there or had been told it was possible.

And it happened two Jinemed representatives were coming to London for the weekend to see prospective patients.

Secret filming

So one Sunday a few weeks ago I went along to a dental practice in Shepherds Bush in London where the Jinemed had hired a room.

I took a small handbag which in itself was fairly normal except this one contained a hidden camera. We (my husband accompanied me) waited an hour to be seen.

The doctor and nurse had been rushed off their feet, it seemed.

Putting three embryos back in a young woman is really bad practice because of the high risk of multiple pregnancy
Professor Peter Braude
Kings College London

Two days of back-to-back appointments - and 50% of those couples wanted sex selection.

I began to explain our story. "I'm 33 and we have two boys conceived naturally and..."

Before I could finish the nurse interjected with a smile. "And you want a daughter."

Over the course of half an hour they explained the costs involved and said we could have the whole procedure done in Turkey.

They also said they normally put in three embryos. That rang alarm bells.

The maximum in the UK is two and most doctors would like to see that reduced to one because multiple pregnancy is the single greatest risk with IVF.

Baby impact

In an earlier conversation it was suggested any extra foetuses could be "taken out" or aborted if I did get pregnant with twins or triplets.

I showed Professor Peter Braude of King's College London our footage.

Having been involved in IVF for many years he advocates implanting only one embryo in women going for fertility treatment.

He said: "Putting three embryos back in a young woman is really bad practice because of the high risk of multiple pregnancy.

"So even if you went abroad for treatment and had your IVF treatment you're bringing those twins back for care in this country - and besides the impact on the NHS there's significant impact on those babies."

Despite being told we had filmed its representatives offering to carry out the procedure, the Jinemed Center says it does not do it, and always warns patients about the risks of multiple pregnancies.

But, after contacting the Turkish government with our findings, it has now launched an official investigation into the Jinemed Center and warned UK patients not to travel there for gender selection.

Proof if needed that the desire to complete a family with a son or a daughter by going down the "high tech" route could turn into a legal nightmare.

Baby sex selection 'to be banned'
12 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Q&A: Sex selection
17 Oct 02 |  Health
Sex selection inquiry ordered
05 Nov 01 |  Health

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