Fertility Doctors response to HFEA report on Sex Selection

12th November 2003

The British Fertility Society (BFS) welcomes the HFEA report on sex selection.

The Society agrees with the recommendations that sperm sorting techniques should be subject to regulation and only carried out in licensed clinics. Appropriate counselling of patients considering such techniques is essential. Safety concerns about the specific techniques are rightly mentioned and consequently restriction of the technique for medical reasons only seems appropriate at this time.

The Society encourages further debate on the ethical implications of gender selection for non-medical reasons. The clear majority of the public is against sex selection and clinics will continue to seek the views of the public and take these views into account. The BFS believes that further basic laboratory research is essential in this important area, and further exploration of the implications of sex selection techniques for children, families and the community should be encouraged.

Professor Alison Murdoch, Chair of the British Fertility Society said ‘The British Fertility Society welcomes this report and we support its findings. We think that it is important that this technique is regulated, and that the regulations take into account the real concerns of the public at large. Like the general public, the majority of our members want sex selection only where there are sound medical reasons. Like many aspects of fertility, the techniques will evolve, and we will need to make sure that we continue to review the ethical and practical use of the technique in the light of any developments’.

Dr Gillian Lockwood (Chair of the BFS ethics subcommittee) said ‘Clinicians and scientists working in assisted reproduction must be willing to take a lead in ensuring developing techniques, which can bring real benefits to patients, are in the public domain. At the same time, we must ensure that these techniques are safe and effective, and that the public accepts the way these techniques are used.

The report of the HFEA makes it quite clear that the only totally reliable method of selecting a baby’s sex is highly invasive, very expensive, and offers only limited prospects of success. Less invasive and less expensive methods of sex selection are neither totally reliable nor completely safe. There could be real concerns about the welfare of babies born using these methods if they turn out to be the ‘wrong sex’.

Using sex selection techniques to ensure that some serious genetic diseases are avoided is a valuable and achievable goal for assisted reproduction. Using sex selection techniques to allow parents to ‘choose’ the sex of their child on other grounds runs the risk of promoting sex discrimination‘.