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IVF sex selection allowed in Western Australia to reduce autism risk

28 October 2013
Appeared in BioNews 728

Sex selection in IVF as a method of avoiding autism has been approved for the first time by health authorities in Western Australia.

The state's Reproductive Technology Council has approved the application of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in a fertility clinic to select sex in order to minimise the risk of autism.

The use of this technique could be particularly relevant for families who have more than one boy with autism, since males are about four times more likely to have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Dr Gary Geelhoed, Chief Medical Officer at the Government of Western Australia's Department of Health, noted that the genetic nature of the illness means that families with a child affected by ASD are at higher risk of having further children with the condition. 'But there's no simple test', he said. 'In this case, the council considers those at risk of having another child, a boy with severe autism, they will use this technique to ensure a healthy girl is born'.

Western Australia's health authorities will consider applications on a case-by-case basis, looking at the specific circumstances such as the number of family members already affected by the disorder.

There have been conflicting reports in relation to whether sex selection will be applied to embryos via PGD (as reported in both The West Australian and Forbes) or whether sperm will be screened prior to fertilisation (as reported by ABC News).

The technique is controversial as its use does not guarantee a healthy outcome. Environmental factors have been shown to impact the way the disorder develops, and identifying the syndrome in girls may also be more difficult since ASD may manifest differently than in boys.

In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 bans sex selection in IVF except for medical reasons, such as those related to sex-linked inherited disorders. According to The West Australian, the UK's HFEA is considering the possibility of including ASD under its list of conditions to allow clinics to test for using PGD. 

Baby sex checks for autism
The West Australian |  19 October 2013
Embryo Sex Selection To Select Against Autism?
Forbes |  21 October 2013
Genetic screening allowed for family with autism
ABC News |  21 October 2013
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A cluster of 12 children conceived from the same sperm donor all have autism spectrum disorders, prompting questions about the oversight of US sperm banks...
19 August 2019 - by Bernie Owusu-Yaw 
Scientists at Hiroshima University have discovered a new sperm separation technique which could be used in future for sex selection...
24 April 2017 - by Dr Jane Currie 
Australia has maintained a ban on sex selection for non-medical reasons, in revised guidelines on assisted reproductive technologies (ART) published this month...
1 August 2016 - by Lone Hørlyck 
Australian IVF clinics are calling for parents to be permitted to choose the sex of their third child if they already have two children of the same gender...
30 March 2015 - by Dr Charlotte Warren-Gash 
Children conceived with assisted reproductive technology may be twice as likely to develop autism...
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....
10 June 2013 - by Siobhan Chan 
A large, complex gene network in people with autism has been identified by researchers at the University of Oxford...
29 April 2013 - by Dr Daniel Grimes 
A study on identical twins with distinct autistic traits suggests that epigenetic factors may be important in understanding how the neurological disorder develops...
3 September 2012 - by Ayesha Ahmad 
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...
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