'Six British couples chose babies' sex'

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The Independent Online

At least six British couples are believed to have chosen the gender of their babies for social reasons such as 'family balancing', a conference revealed yesterday.

At least six British couples are believed to have chosen the gender of their babies for social reasons such as 'family balancing', a conference revealed yesterday.

The couples had travelled to the United States to undergo MicroSort, a technique originally developed for cattle that enables sperm to be screened in order to choose a desired gender. The oldest baby born through the technique is believed to be aged one.

According to details presented to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Seattle, the screening, which has led to the birth of 300 babies, has a 91 per cent success rate for producing girls and 74 per cent for boys. The process is is not illegal in Britain, but is not offered by any clinic in Britain or Europe. It costs around £4,000 and was initially developed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Many of the British couples who went to the Genetics and IVF Institute in Virginia are believed to have been parents to at least one child or more, and were seeking to give birth to an infant of the opposite sex. The clinic rarely considers taking on childless couples unless they carry genetic disorders that affect only babies of one gender. It describes its work with couples who already have a child of one gender and are now seeking the opposite gender as "family balancing."

Susan Black, a former employee at Guy's Hospital, London, left her job to work at the American clinic. She said she was touched by the British patients she encountered there and cited one couple from north London who were desperately keen to have a girl after giving birth to three boys.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is preparing to consult publicly on the topic of choosing the gender of a child, and will consider whether the law should be modified to require licencing of MicroSort. At present, treatments require HFEA approval if they include freezing or donating either sperm or embryos, which MicroSort does not.

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