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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'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
British couples flying to US for banned baby sex selection
Daily Telegraph |  28 August 2012
Sex Selection and Family Balancing
The Fertility Institutes |  18 January 2019
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
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