Law allows couples to choose child's sex: Ethical debate reopens as woman is said to have selected baby daughter at clinic after husband's sperm was separated into 'male' and 'female'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Couples can try to choose the sex of their children because there is no law to stop it, the Department of Health said yesterday after reports that a woman has successfully 'selected' a baby daughter.

Gillian Clark from Essex gave birth two weeks ago, after buying a sex-selection service at the controversial London Gender Clinic, in Hendon, north London. Treatment costs between pounds 650 and pounds 1,500.

With her husband Neil, Mrs Clark had taken part in a sperm-selection procedure which is claimed to give a 70 to 80 per cent chance of resulting in a baby of the sex chosen by the couple. The centre said that six babies had been born, four of them of the desired sex, following sperm selection.

The birth of Mr and Mrs Clark's daughter has re-opened the debate over sex selection. The couple already have two sons and wanted a daughter.

The case exposes an anomaly in British law and medical practice. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority charged under the law with regulating fertility clinics and research, has, with government approval, banned sex selection for social reasons.

The British Medical Association has also ruled that the practice is unethical.

The Hendon centre uses a method to separate husband's sperm into 'male' and 'female' before artificial insemination. Because it does not use donor sperm, does not store sperm and fertilisation takes place naturally inside the woman's body, the centre falls outside the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

The Department of Health said yesterday that the method had not been validated scientifically and without evidence of the effectiveness of the method, it had no plans to widen the legislation. 'It would be like legislating over an old wives' tale,' a spokesman said.

Mrs Clark told ITN she could not be sure the clinic treatment caused her to give birth to a girl. 'Who knows really? It is just wonderful to us that we now have a little girl,' she said.

The centre was opened just over a year ago by Dr Alan Rose, a retired pathologist, and Dr Peter Liu, a biochemist. Male and female sperm are differentiated using a method invented by an American, Dr Ronald Ericsson, 20 years ago. The theory is that when the sperm are put into a special solution, those having the male Y chromosomes with a smaller surface area reach the bottom of the tube faster than the female X chromosome.

The two men denied that their work was a step towards 'designer babies' which could put at risk the balance between the sexes. The method claims a 77 per cent success rate for boys and a 70 per cent success rate for girls. Dr Liu said they would need to see at least 50 births before they could judge the success of the London centre.

Dr Rose said yesterday: 'We can't see any moral or ethical objection to what we are doing. You have to set what we do by what is already happening.

'Women have ultrasound scans and if they don't like the sex of the baby they can have an abortion. It does go on. What we are doing is better than that. We say we are reducing the number of abortions, not increasing them.'

He said that only 'about six' babies had been born after treatment and it would take up to three years before the clinic could publish its findings. They had interviewed more than 500 couples: 150 had been treated and about 20 were pregnant. Two-thirds were Asians, most wanting boys, and a quarter were white Britons who wanted daughters.

(Photograph omitted)