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HFEA rules out social sex selection

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

12 November 2003

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[BioNews, London] Almost a year after the launch of a public consultation on sex selection, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has announced its recommendations to Government, which include a continuation of the current ban on sex selection for non-medical reasons. The consultation document asked whether people in the UK believe that techniques used to select the sex of a prospective child should be made available for non-medical purposes. Roughly 80 per cent of respondents said no.

The law in the UK currently only allows sex selection of IVF embryos by preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for medical reasons, such as the avoidance of X-linked genetic diseases. But since 1993, when the last HFEA sex selection consultation took place, a new technique, sperm sorting, has been developed that could give couples the chance of having a baby of a particular gender without having to undergo IVF. The sperm sorting techniques separates sperm according to whether they are carrying an X or a Y chromosome, the chromosomes which determine the sex of the resulting embryo. Currently, sperm sorting would not be illegal in the UK, as the use of fresh sperm is not covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

Today, the HFEA has recommended that sex selection techniques involving sperm sorting should become regulated in the UK, and that the current policy of only allowing sex selection to avoid serious medical conditions should continue. The recommendation is based on the results of the year-long consultation, which took into account the views of members of the public and experts, and the results of research into scientific, technical, social and ethical issues commissioned by the HFEA. The government-funded public consultation found that 80 per cent of the 600 respondents do not want sex selection techniques to be made available for non-medical reasons.

Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA, said that the authority had found this to be a 'difficult issue'. 'The HFEA has to balance the potential benefit of any technique against the potential harm', she said, adding 'we are not persuaded that the likely benefits of permitting sex selection for social reasons are strong enough to outweigh the possible harm that might be done'. The recommendations were welcomed by the British Fertility Society. Professor Alison Murdoch, chair of the society, said 'like the general public, the majority of our members want sex selection only where there are sound medical reasons'.

In response to the HFEA recommendations, parents who would like to use sex selection for family balancing say that they will continue go abroad for treatment. Simon Fishel, director of the CARE IVF clinic in Nottingham, said 'those families that wanted to use sex selection for choosing the gender of their child will be disappointed and will now be forced to go abroad to seek treatment'. Nicola Chenery, the woman who gave birth to twin girls earlier this month after travelling to Spain to have sex selection, criticised the decision, saying that she hoped one day the techniques will be available on the NHS. Alan Masterton, the man campaigning for the availability of sex selection after he and his wife were refused it, said that the HFEA decision 'forces people like ourselves abroad'. He added 'this does not stop people from having this procedure done. Make no mistake, all it does is make it more expensive'.

© 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: 12 November 2003   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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