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HFEA rules out social sex selection

12 November 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 233

Almost a year after the launch of a public consultation on sex selection, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has announced its recommendations to Government, which include a continuation of the current ban on sex selection for non-medical reasons. The consultation document asked whether people in the UK believe that techniques used to select the sex of a prospective child should be made available for non-medical purposes. Roughly 80 per cent of respondents said no.

The law in the UK currently only allows sex selection of IVF embryos by PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis ) for medical reasons, such as the avoidance of X-linked genetic diseases. But since 1993, when the last HFEA sex selection consultation took place, a new technique, sperm sorting, has been developed that could give couples the chance of having a baby of a particular gender without having to undergo IVF. The sperm sorting techniques separates sperm according to whether they are carrying an X or a Y chromosome, the chromosomes which determine the sex of the resulting embryo. Currently, sperm sorting would not be illegal in the UK, as the use of fresh sperm is not covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

Today, the HFEA has recommended that sex selection techniques involving sperm sorting should become regulated in the UK, and that the current policy of only allowing sex selection to avoid serious medical conditions should continue. The recommendation is based on the results of the year-long consultation, which took into account the views of members of the public and experts, and the results of research into scientific, technical, social and ethical issues commissioned by the HFEA. The government-funded public consultation found that 80 per cent of the 600 respondents do not want sex selection techniques to be made available for non-medical reasons.

Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA, said that the authority had found this to be a 'difficult issue'. 'The HFEA has to balance the potential benefit of any technique against the potential harm', she said, adding 'we are not persuaded that the likely benefits of permitting sex selection for social reasons are strong enough to outweigh the possible harm that might be done'. The recommendations were welcomed by the British Fertility Society. Professor Alison Murdoch, chair of the society, said 'like the general public, the majority of our members want sex selection only where there are sound medical reasons'.

In response to the HFEA recommendations, parents who would like to use sex selection for family balancing say that they will continue go abroad for treatment. Simon Fishel, director of the CARE IVF clinic in Nottingham, said 'those families that wanted to use sex selection for choosing the gender of their child will be disappointed and will now be forced to go abroad to seek treatment'. Nicola Chenery, the woman who gave birth to twin girls earlier this month after travelling to Spain to have sex selection, criticised the decision, saying that she hoped one day the techniques will be available on the NHS. Alan Masterton, the man campaigning for the availability of sex selection after he and his wife were refused it, said that the HFEA decision 'forces people like ourselves abroad'. He added 'this does not stop people from having this procedure done. Make no mistake, all it does is make it more expensive'.

Baby gender selection ruled out
BBC News Online |  12 November 2003
Ban on parents using science to select child's sex
The Times |  12 November 2003
HFEA announces recommendations on sex selection
HFEA |  12 November 2003
Picking baby's sex banned amid public opinion
The Independent |  12 November 2003
17 February 2006 - by BioNews 
A new study carried out at the University of Illinois in Chicago shows that most people would not choose the sex of their baby, if given the option. The findings, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, are based on an online survey of 1,197 men and women aged between...
7 November 2005 - by BioNews 
A new UK study of peoples' attitudes towards social sex selection has found that 80 per cent believe that parents should not be allowed to choose their baby's sex, even for 'family balancing' reasons. The researchers, based at the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Unit at Newcastle University, questioned 48...
31 October 2005 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
Allowing parents to select embryos purely on the basis of their sex is one of the most controversial uses of reproductive technology, and usually one that generates plenty of press coverage every time it's mentioned. Not so last week, however, when the journal Nature reported on (and press-released) details of...
28 October 2005 - by BioNews 
A new US trial will look at the social effects of allowing parents to choose whether they have a baby girl or boy. The study, based at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, will follow up babies born following the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to choose...
31 May 2005 - by BioNews 
Israeli parents who have at least four children of the same sex may now be allowed to use preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to conceive a child of the opposite sex. A new directive passed on 19 May will allow couples to apply for permission to select embryos according to their...
8 October 2003 - by Dr David King 
Sex selection is the exercise of sexism at the most profound level, choosing who gets born, and which types of lives are preferred. In traditional-patriarchal societies, such as in India and China, the preference for boys has led to huge imbalances in the sex ratio in the population. In western...
20 January 2003 - by Juliet Tizzard 
In case you hadn't already noticed, a public consultation has been taking place in the UK over the past few months. Your views are being sought as to whether couples should be able to choose the sex of their prospective children. When a woman is expecting a baby, someone is...
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