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The BBC's Andrew Cassell
"A legal challenge borne out of heartache and tragedy"
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Medical ethics expert, Dr Tom Shakespeare
"Ordinary people should be consulted"
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Bishop Richard Holloway
"I think it is a deep-rooted fear that the general public has"
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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Baby sex choice battle
Masterton children
Nicole Masterton with her four brothers
A Scottish couple plans to use the new Human Rights Act to seek permission to choose the sex of a child.

Alan and Louise Masterton, from Monifieth, near Dundee, lost their only daughter Nicole in a bonfire accident and want to have a girl by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Current rules on the use of the techniques - administered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - ban choosing the sex of a baby unless there is a pressing medical reason.

The Mastertons now plan a court challenge based on two parts of the European Convention on Human Rights - recently fully incorporated into UK law in the Human Rights Act.

If they fail, they could go to the US to have the procedure carried out, according to Dr Nancy Dickey, from the American Medical Association.

"Legally speaking, this couple could go to America and find a place to accomplish what they want," said Dr Dickey, who is attending an international conference in Edinburgh.

"Ethically speaking, we would have substantial concerns about conceiving a child then determining whether to continue a pregnancy based solely on gender."

Nicole 'irreplaceable'

The couple, who have four sons, argue that they have a sound case for wanting a girl and repeated their assertion that they were not seeking a "designer baby".

They said they tried for 15 years to have a girl and lost their only one at the age of three.

They have asked to use a technique known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) as part of the standard IVF process.

Alan Masterton
Alan Masterton: "Not seeking to replace Nicole"
Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland, Alan Masterton said: "We're not looking to replace Nicole. We're intelligent enough to be aware that we can never replace Nicole.

"What we're trying to do is help heal our family again and have another daughter."

Mr Masterton also dismissed suggestions that there was not a pressing medical need for his wife to give birth to a baby girl.

He said: "We have psychologists' reports and also our family's GP reports which prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that the psychology for a daughter in our family existed long before Nicole was born."

Clinics refused

Asked about fears that this would open the doors to sex selection for trivial reasons, Mr Masterton said: "This is exactly the point that our own situation turns on.

"We actually applied to the HFEA to have the specifics of our case considered. However, we believe that our application was circumvented and the HFEA have effectively made any progress impossible."

The authority said the correct approach for the couple was to find a willing clinic and ask it to apply. However, all five clinics with the expertise wrote back with refusals.

Nicole Masterton
Nicole Masterton: Died in a bonfire accident
The HFEA has also acknowledged the "procreation or tourism" phenomenon where couples can travel to different countries with different regulations to seek particular treatments.

In the US, for example, there is little regulation of embryology and what there is varies from clinic to clinic, while many European countries follow the UK line.

Mr Masterton said he was convinced the clinics would not risk their reputations by attempting to change the guidelines and he believes the authority knew that.

'Deep-rooted fear'

Richard Holloway, the Bishop of Edinburgh and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church,and former member of the HFEA board said that there was a deep-rooted public fear over sex selection.

He said: "I think that the HFEA is basically cautiously responding to these instinctive feelings.

"I think, in this case, it probably ought to look hard at it because, while you could probably make a case for a general regulation that sex selection is a bad thing, there must be exceptional circumstances.

"I would think this one probably was, and I hope they can get to a centre and get the centre to send in an application to the HFEA and that's what they're waiting for."

Dr Hugh McLachlan, a specialist in medical ethics at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: "I think there are two issues.

"I think in general that they should be given the chance to choose the sex of their baby. I think there is no good argument against that.

"Now I think to apply under the new legislation - the Human Rights Act - is a pretty desperate attempt, when other attempts have failed.

"I'm not saying that it should work. I suspect it might not work."

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See also:

04 Oct 00 | Scotland
Couple fight for baby girl
04 Oct 00 | Health
'Designer baby' ethics fear
03 Oct 00 | Health
Legal fight over IVF embryos
04 Oct 00 | Health
Baby created to save older sister
13 Mar 00 | Scotland
Baby sex choice couple speak out
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