The Manipulation of Birth: British attitude 'is arrogant hogwash': Clinics in the US have been using sex selection for almost 20 years. John Arlidge examines the American view

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The Independent Online
THE AMERICAN scientist who developed the human sperm separation technique yesterday condemned British reluctance to adopt sex selection as 'arrogant hogwash'.

Dr Ronald Ericsson said the practice was 'old hat' in America and he could not understand why the British were upset by it. 'It's been going on for such a long time that the advertisers would probably call the techniques we are now using 'new and improved'.'

The British, he said, 'like to moralise and meddle in other people's lives. What is wrong with people who seek a child of a particular sex to complete their family? Time and again people say 'We can't afford to have a big family but we'd like a boy and a girl'. By enabling people to choose, you help prevent rapid population growth and reduce the number of unwanted children. Sex selection is a form of family planning'.

Political pressure to discourage couples from using the technique was, he added, 'stupid because if you do not allow people to take advantage of it they will seek it elsewhere. They will have to pay more; the quality could fall'.

Clinics in the US have used sex selection procedures for almost 20 years. An estimated 1,000 couples have had the child of their chosen sex.

In 1992 the Midwest Fertility Sex Selection Centre in Michigan claimed a 100 per cent success rate for girls born during the year. Kim Skipworth, medical technologist, said that 10 girls from 10 births was unprecedented. 'Normally we have a 75 per cent success rate for females and an 85 per cent rate for males.'

The cash-only centre charges a dollars 100 ( pounds 66.66) consultation fee, dollars 500 ( pounds 333) for the first insemination, dollars 400 ( pounds 266.66) for the second and dollars 300 ( pounds 200) thereafter. Couples come from as far afield as Saudi Arabia, Japan, France and Britain. Most are in their thirties or forties.

Ms Skipworth conceded that doctors could not prevent women seeking abortions if the selection failed but, she said, the centre refused to terminate pregnancies.

More couples want boys than girls. Dr Frances Batzer, associate director of the Philadelphia Fertility Institute, which treats about 35 couples a year, said well over half of those who requested boys were from 'ethnic groups, mainly Indians or people from the Middle East, who want a boy for 'ethnic reasons' '. Doctors say many Asian people value boys more highly than girls.

Others sought to choose for 'social' reasons or to avoid 'sex- linked' diseases. 'Women who have had several girls may want a boy and vice versa. Also, some mothers may be carrying hereditary diseases like muscular dystrophy which boys contract and girls do not.'