Thu, Nov 13, 2003 - Page 6 News List

UK to ban selection of child's sex after public pans plans

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Selecting the sex of a child is to be banned in the UK after a consultation exercise found the public outraged by the idea.

On Tuesday, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates fertility treatment, announced that it would recommend a ban on sex selection, except in families where one gender would risk inheriting a serious genetic disorder. Hemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, for instance, affect only boys.

"Family balancing" will not be allowed, inevitably leading some parents to head for the US, where sex selection is practised.

The HFEA's decision surprised some observers, who thought there might be a liberal consensus among experts on the issue of parents who have tried many times to have a son to balance the number of daughters in their family, or vice versa. But the strength of public opinion left the HFEA little choice.

"We have found this a difficult issue and it has taken us a year to reach conclusions," said the HFEA chairwoman, Suzi Leather. "We are mindful of their far-reaching nature. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is a substantial public consensus against sex selection for social reasons.

"We are not persuaded that the likely benefits of permitting sex selection for social reasons are strong enough to sustain a policy to which the vast majority are overwhelmingly opposed."

The health secretary, John Reid, immediately backed the popular mood. "I fully support the view that people should not be allowed to select the sex of their children on social grounds. I can confirm that as long as I am secretary of state for health, sex selection will only be permitted on compelling medical grounds.

"We will consider carefully whether the law needs to be changed to ensure this ban can be maintained effectively."

There were more than 600 responses to the consultation, backed by an opinion poll of more than 2,000 people and discussions with focus groups. The comments showed that for most, "the language and values of consumerism, which places such emphasis on choice, are considered inappropriate," Leather said.

Many said that parental love should be unconditional and that children are a gift, not a choice. They felt that, if parents wanted to choose the sex of their child, they might have strong feelings also about the sort of human being this child should grow up to be.

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