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Gender Clinic Inquiry

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

13 November 2001

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[BioNews, London] The UK government has asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to investigate a 'legal loophole' which in theory allows some private clinics to offer sex selection of children for non-medical reasons. The request comes following reports that some clinics are offering a 'sperm sorting' technique that enables them to choose whether they have a boy or a girl. There are also fears that the techniques being used may not be safe.

Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which governs the creation of embryos and storage of sperm, gender selection is only allowed for medical reasons, such as the avoidance of an inheritable genetic condition. But because sperm sorting does not involve the creation of an embryo or the storage of sperm, it is not controlled by the Act.

There are two methods of sperm sorting available, one involving a fluorescent dye which binds to the sperm, and one in which the sperm is spun at high speed, causing the male sperm to separate from the female. Ruth Deech, chairman of the HFEA, has expressed concern about the safety of the dyeing technique in particular, saying 'there are all sorts of problems that might arise from that and I think no-one sensible would want to take that particular risk'.

In 1993, following a public consultation, the HFEA decided that sex selection should not be allowed for social reasons. The authority has now said that it will re-examine its policy on this matter. Meanwhile, it has been predicted that men risk becoming 'extinct', partly because of the advent of reproductive technologies. Professor Siegfried Meryn, from the University of Vienna, Austria, argues that the use of sperm banks and IVF, the development of sex selection techniques, creation of embryos without sperm, and human cloning may mean that it is a 'distinct possibility' that men may become unnecessary.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 13 November 2001   Date Updated: 11 September 2004
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