British undercover journalists referred abroad for illegal sex selection
Progress Educational Trust15 November 2006
According to the UK's Sunday Times newspaper last week, clinics in the UK are offering couples the chance to choose the sex of their child, a practice that is illegal in Britain unless done to avoid a serious genetic disorder in the resulting child, by referring them to clinics abroad. An undercover reporter from the newspaper approached a leading fertility specialist in London and was offered IVF with preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to choose the gender of a resulting baby - despite having no fertility problems - for the price of ?12,000.
The sex selection procedure was to be carried out at a clinic in Limassol, Cyprus. The reporter was told that the procedure was legal there - however sex selection has been banned in Cyprus since 2001. More than one British clinic offered to send the couple to Cyprus for 'treatment'. One of the Cypriot clinics - Repromed - is run by controversial fertility expert Dr Panos Zavos, who claimed to the reporters that social sex selection was allowed in the countries in which they operate and no local laws would be broken.
PGD is a technique developed in order to allow embryos to be tested for serious inheritable diseases, some of which may be related to the embryo's gender. A cell is removed from the early embryo, tested in the laboratory and, if the embryo is free of the disorder, or the desired sex, it is then implanted into the mother's womb. Sex selection for 'social' or 'family balancing' reasons is not illegal in the United States but has never been allowed in the UK, and a recent survey suggests that only a small minority of the British public would support its use.
The Cypriot health minister, Charis Charalambous, responded to the Sunday Times report by ordering the attorney-general to initiate an immediate criminal investigation. He told the newspaper that 'we are very concerned about this' and added that 'prosecutions may follow'.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.