IVF sex selection allowed in Western Australia to reduce autism risk
María Victoria Rivas Llanos
Progress Educational Trust29 October 2013
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.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.