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IVF report provokes 'designer baby' rumpus

Parents should choose sex, committee says

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A parliamentary cross-party Science and Technology Committee has recommended that couples undergoing IVF treatment should be allowed to decide the sex of their unborn baby. The 11-member committee's report into Britain's fertility laws immediately provoked renewed debate over "designer babies", Reuters reports.

The report states: "The use and destruction of embryos does raise ethical issues and there are grounds for caution [but] on balance we find no adequate justification for prohibiting the use of sex selection for family balancing." It adds that regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority should be scrapped because the committee can see "no role" for it in determining how an embryo is screened.

Dr David King, director of campaign group Human Genetics Alert, responded: "Social sex selection should not be allowed, because it turns children into consumer items and allows gender stereotypes to determine who gets born. It will throw the door to designer babies wide open."

Committee chairman Ian Gibson defended: "We are looking at the regulation of new technologies. We back proper investigation into the sex selection process." He was supported by fertility expert Lord Robert Winston, who told the BBC he "could not see issues with parents being able to choose their babies' sex, and that the numbers who would want to do so would be very small." He added: "People will not go through IVF to choose the sex of their baby and even if they did it would not in any way, I think, damage the fabric of our society."

The commitee also recommended that the government consider techniques such as implanting human cells into animals - thereby creating so-called "chimeras" - for research purposes, subject to strict regulation. It further attacked plans to remove anonymity for sperm donors from from 1 April.

However, five of the commitee members distanced themselves from the report, stating: "We believe this report is unbalanced, light on ethics, goes too far in the direction of deregulation and is too dismissive of public opinion and much of the evidence."

Summing up said public opinion on the issues raised, Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, told the BBC: "There is absolutely no way that the public in the United Kingdom is in favour of designer babies, social sex selection, animal-human hybrids, human reproductive cloning, or any other brave new world proposal." ®

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