UK sex selection consultation launched
Dr Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust
30 October 2002
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a public consultation asking whether people believe that embryo sex selection techniques should be made available for non-medical purposes. The public were last consulted on the issue in 1993, when non-medical sex selection was rejected.
Currently, UK law only allows sex-selection of embryos in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for medical reasons, such as the avoidance of X-linked diseases. But other techniques for distinguishing gender have been developed since the law was passed, such as 'sperm sorting', which allows couples to try for a baby of the desired sex without using PGD techniques. It has recently been reported, for example, that six British couples have travelled to America to take advantage of MicroSort, the pre-conception sperm sorting technique offered by the Genetics and IVF Institute in Virginia, US.
Sperm sorting works on the premise that the chromosome that determines a baby's gender comes from sperm, and whether the sperm carries an X (female) or Y (male) chromosome affects the amount of DNA carried. On this basis, 'male' and 'female' sperm can be separated as 'female' sperm is 'heavier'. Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA, commented that 'the development of new assisted reproduction techniques presents challenges and poses new questions. I feel it is extremely important that people make their views heard on this important area of public policy'.
She points out, however, that initiating the public consultation does not mean that the HFEA will reach a conclusion on the issue or that it will allow sex selection for non-medical reasons. One issue that will be considered is whether allowing sex selection, although it would be unlikely to produce skewed sex ratios in the UK, would 'send a message' to other countries in which gender bias is more of an issue.
© 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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