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UK committee to recommend social sex selection?

14 March 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 299

The UK's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) is to recommend that couples should be allowed to use sex selection to achieve the families they desire, and that rules on the creation of 'designer babies' should be eased, according to an article in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

The paper reports that the STC, which is soon to publish a report on its review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, is to recommend that PGD with tissue-typing - used to create so-called 'saviour siblings' - should be able to be used by couples so long as they 'remain within the law'. It also reports that the committee will say that using fertility treatments to enable sex selection for social reasons is acceptable, because there is 'no compelling evidence' that it harms individuals or society.

The STC report, apparently seen by the Mail on Sunday in 'draft' form, calls for 'a complete overhaul' of the regulation of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). It criticises the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for acting outside of its remit and says that 'the current regulatory model should be replaced with a system that devolves clinical decision-making and technical standards down to patients and professionals while at the same time strengthening parliamentary and ethical oversight'.

The STC announced in 2003 that it was to inquire into whether the 1990 Act is still working effectively. Its inspiration appeared to come from a number of high profile court cases that challenged either the provisions of the Act or the right of the HFEA to make decisions on a number of specific issues. For example, a judicial review of the HFEA's decision to license PGD with tissue-typing was undertaken by a pro-life group after the authority gave the Hashmi family permission to use the technique. Initially, the UK's High Court ruled that the authority did not have the power to authorise the tissue typing procedure, but the Court of Appeal later overturned this ruling. However, last week, the Hashmi case reached the House of Lords, who will have the final say on the matter.

The STC had previously called for the 1990 Act to be updated in its fourth report, 'Developments in Human Genetics and Embryology', published in July 2002. Since that time, there has been increased criticism of the Act. In view of the concerns, and the failure of the Government to act on its 2002 recommendations, the STC has been consulting widely among interested parties on issues in ARTs, as well as holding an e-consultation open to the public. The STC's report, when published, will feed into a second review and consultation, which is being undertaken by the Department of Health (DH) and will be followed by a public consultation in autumn.

According to the Scotsman newspaper, some of the members of the STC are not happy with the draft report and have threatened to delay its progress, hoping that it will 'drop out of existence' if delayed until the general election. An unnamed MP told the Scotsman that 'the report has already been much rewritten, as the original was appalling and libertarian', adding 'it would have been unacceptable to the public and it's been amended, but it remains unacceptable'. Dr Ian Gibson, chair of the STC told the paper that the final version would be written 'line by line' at a meeting today.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
IVF parents should be able to pick babies' sex, say MPs
The Scotsman |  14 March 2005
Let couples choose sex of babies say MPs
The Mail on Sunday |  13 March 2005
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