U.K. to ban gender selection of babies

LONDON NOV. 13. Parents in Britain are to be banned from choosing the sex of their baby except for strictly medical reasons such as preventing gender-linked disorders.

The move follows a report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA), which regulates fertility treatment, that people should not be allowed to use medical techniques for "family balancing''.

Often, families with more than one child of the same sex tend to `balance' it by using IVF to create a baby of the opposite gender, but HEFA said 80 per cent of the people were opposed to sex selection for social reasons.

Currently, gender selection facilities are not widely available in Britain and people go abroad, mostly to America, where "sperm-sorting'' to pre-determine the sex of a baby is widely practised. Some commentators voiced concern that a ban would simply drive the practice `underground' with more people travelling abroad for sex-selection procedures.

Suzi Leather, chairperson of HEFA, admitted that it was a "difficult issue'' but cited "substantial public consensus'' in support of a ban. "It has taken us over a year to reach conclusions because of their far-reaching nature. But it is clear that most people are against sex-selection for social reasons.

The HEFA has to balance the potential benefit of any technique against the potential harm. We are not persuaded that the likely benefits of permitting sex selection for social reasons are strong enough to outweigh the possible harm done,'' she said.

The report was widely welcomed by medical experts and groups who oppose sex selection on religious and ethical grounds. The Health Secretary, John Reid, was quick to throw the Government's support behind HEFA's recommendations declaring that "as long as I am Secretary of State for Health, sex selection will only be permitted on compelling medical grounds.'' "I fully support the view that people should not be allowed to select the sex of their children on social grounds. We will consider carefully whether the law needs to be changed to ensure this ban can be maintained effectively," he said.