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BBC Scotland's Alan Mackay
"The couple already have four sons, they now want a girl"
 real 28k

Monday, 13 March, 2000, 18:03 GMT
Baby sex choice couple speak out
In-vitro fertilisation
The couple want to use IVF to have a girl
The couple who want to use a medical treatment to choose the sex of a child have denied that their request will "open the floodgates".

Medical ethics experts say Alan and Louise Masterton, who lost their only daughter Nicky in a bonfire accident at their home in Monifieth, Angus, are unlikely to win their case.

We are well aware that Nicole is irreplaceable and no one could ever take her place in our hearts

Alan and Louise Masterton
The couple, who have four sons, want to conceive a baby through artificial insemination but are determined it should be a girl.

The Mastertons said they "fully understand" peoples' misgivings about gender selection of embryos.

But they added: "We do not believe that granting our request ... would lead to an opening of the floodgates and increased demand for this in the future.

"We tried for a girl for 15 years and were blessed with our precious daughter Nicole in 1995.

"We are well aware that Nicole is irreplaceable and no one could ever take her place in our hearts."

Absence of precedent

The couple have sent a written argument to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, but have been told that there is no precedent allowing them to go ahead with the treatment.

Their statement adds: "The purpose of the application is an effort to not only help our family but also the families who are visited by similar tragedies."

Guidelines in the UK prevent the choosing of a baby's sex for anything other than exceptional medical reasons.

Nicky Masterton
Nicky Masterton: Died following a bonfire accident
The technique, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), can be performed as part of the standard in-vitro fertilisation process. This involves the selective destruction of male embryos.

This means that families with a history of hereditary diseases in male children, like haemophilia or muscular dystrophy, are able to choose the sex.

Professor of medical ethics Sheila McLean said: "It may sometimes be preferable to have a girl, not a boy because many genetic disorders translate through the male side of the line, not the female.

Judicial review

"In these kinds of cases, there would probably be fewer problems about genetic selection.

"But where the selection is simply one of preference then by and large, the assumption in the UK, but not other countries, is that it is not acceptable."

The agency's guidelines are not binding and the Mastertons could seek a judicial review in an attempt to win the right to proceed.

Diane Blood, who won the right to use her late husband's sperm to have a baby, went to the courts in London after the HFEA opposed her initial request because she did not have written consent for the sperm removal.

Genetic selection is a controversial issue
Dr Bill O'Neill, the British Medical Association's Scottish secretary-elect, said: "These are very difficult dilemmas and one is faced on one hand with couples who clearly face the possibility of serious genetic abnormality and on the other, significant emotional reasons for wanting to choose the gender of their child.

"You may well argue that there is a subtle difference between these two groups - but there is a difference."

Professor Alan Templeton, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Aberdeen University, told The Scotsman newspaper: "The HFEA has indicated that choosing the sex of a child for social, as opposed to medical, reasons is not acceptable at present.

Hereditary disease

"In practice PDG is only carried out in this country in cases where parents already have a child affected with a debilitating hereditary disease and who want to prevent other children being born with the same condition."

"This generally means choosing to have girls in cases where boys are likely to inherit the disease from their mother."

Professor McLean added: "It's impossible not to have sympathy with the family in question whose lives have obviously been damaged by what's happened.

"But I think people have legitimate reasons to look behind the notion that only a girl will satisfy in these circumstances.

"What the couple are not saying is we want another child, they are saying we want a specific kind of child and for those who oppose gender selection, that's precisely what the crux of the issue is."

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See also:

13 Mar 00 | Scotland
The Mastertons' statement in full
31 Mar 99 | Medical notes
IVF: The facts
31 Mar 99 | Health
IVF: the drawbacks
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