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Wealthy couples flock to USA to avoid UK sex selection ban, IVF medic claims

3 September 2012
Appeared in BioNews 671

Dr Jeffrey Steinberg, a British IVF specialist who is now director of a pair of private clinics in the USA has claimed that dozens of couples see him every year to select the sex of their babies.

In the UK, using sex as criterion for embryo selection during IVF is forbidden under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which was amended to ban non-medical sex-selection in 2008. Exceptions can only be made for certain medical reasons, such as to avoid giving birth to children with serious heritable sex-linked medical conditions like Duchenne's muscular dystrophy.

However, sex-selection, which Dr Steinberg describes as 'family balancing', is permitted in many states in the USA. Dr Steinberg claims that the two clinics he directs see around 40 British couples every year for this, with each IVF cycle costing £30,000.

The Fertility Institutes, where Dr Steinberg works, use a technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). 'If you want to be certain your next child will be the gender you are hoping for', the company's website reads, 'no other method comes close to the reliability of PGD'.

After an initial telephone consultation, British couples using The Fertility Institutes' services may attend an appointment at an affiliated UK clinic. The woman will begin taking hormones to stimulate her ovaries and after arriving in the USA, an average of ten eggs will be harvested.

'We biopsy the fertilised eggs, and will lose at least half from genetic abnormalities', Dr Steinberg told the London Evening Standard. 'Then half of those remaining are going to be the wrong gender, so we will be left with just one or two of the gender we want, to implant'.

Dr Steinberg said he hopes that the services he provides will prevent abortions in other countries where sex selection is banned. He told the London Evening Standard: 'The problem with all these countries where sex selection is not legal - Britain included - is that medicine and its financial arrangements are integrated into the government'.

'Once the government becomes involved in paying for everything, then the government starts making decisions about people's care'.

Dr Steinberg added that 'leading British politicians' had come to him 'for services that are outlawed in the UK'.

Responding to an inquiry from the Daily Telegraph, an spokesperson for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said the regulator had 'little or no remit' to intervene with the British clinics affiliated to the Fertility Institutes that provided preparatory care.

'However', the spokesperson told the newspaper, 'we do expect centres, whether referring patients abroad or recommending shared, cross-border care, to provide these patients with information about the consequences of having treatment outside the UK'.

British couples flying to US for banned baby sex selection
Daily Telegraph |  28 August 2012
Sex Selection and Family Balancing
The Fertility Institutes |  27 January 2022
The British mothers flying to US doctors for banned procedure to choose sex of baby
Mail Online |  29 August 2012
The sex factor... Brits are jetting to New York to select their baby's gender
London Evening Standard |  28 August 2012
23 March 2015 - by Sophie McLachlan 
The nutrient-filled liquid used to grow embryos during IVF might affect the resulting male to female birth ratio, a study suggests...
28 October 2013 - by María Victoria Rivas Llanos 
Sex selection in IVF as a method of avoiding autism has been approved for the first time by health authorities in Western Australia...
8 July 2013 - by Matthew Young 
A report produced by bioethicists from Keele University has concluded that there is no justifiable basis on which to ban IVF sex selection in the UK....
23 January 2012 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
A test has been developed to determine the sex of a fetus from only five weeks old. The test relies on a blood sample from the mother and therefore carries no risk to the child...
15 August 2011 - by Rose Palmer 
A simple blood test for pregnant women can accurately predict the sex of a fetus at seven weeks, much earlier than conventional techniques, new research has found. A systematic review and meta-analysis examined the results of 57 earlier studies that included more than 6,500 pregnancies...
28 March 2011 - by Stevienna de Saille 
The use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for sex selection has proven extremely controversial in the UK, where the procedure is illegal unless medically justified to avoid producing a child with a sex-linked genetic disorder, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy. One reason often given for the restrictions is the fear that the technology will be used mainly to select male embryos...
21 February 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A Liverpool hospital has said it will investigate allegations that one of its doctors had apparently offered to make arrangements for an undercover reporter posing as a prospective patient to undergo a sex-selection procedure for family balancing abroad...
24 January 2011 - by Leo Perfect 
An Australian couple are going to court to fight for their right to choose the sex of their next child. They applied to use IVF with gender selection technology to guarantee a daughter, but an independent bioethics panel rejected their request...
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