May 24, 2024

British to ponder sex selection

The British government has launched a public consultation on a revision of its 1990 fertility law. Permitting couples to choose the sex of their baby is probably the most controversial of the proposals, but Caroline Flint, the public health minister said that the time has come to debate “family balancing”.

I welcome the review,” said John Harris, a libertarian bioethicist at Manchester University. “If it’s not wrong to wish for a bonny, bouncing baby girl, how can it be wrong to use technology to play fairy godmother to ourselves?” However, David King, of the lobby group Human Genetics Alert, predicted dire consequences. “Social 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.” He was supported by a member of the ethics committee of the British Medical Association, Dr Tony Calland, who said that sex selection made him feel “very uncomfortable”.

Sex selection is merely one amongst many changes needed to update the law, according to Ms Flint. Also under consideration are the requirement to consider the welfare of the potential child before treatment is authorised; regulating internet sperm and egg donors, and the creation of artificial eggs and sperm. The first of these is needed because some IVF clinics turn lesbians and single women away, in the belief that the “welfare of the child” assumes that he should have a father.

The origin for the government’s consultation is recommendations made in March by the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. Dubbed the “Frankenstein report” by its critics, it took a libertarian line on most issues, and even questioned whether it was right to impose a permanent ban on reproductive cloning. The government has refused to back the most radical of these suggestions, but seems broadly in favour of a consumer-oriented approach to human reproductive technology.