Hundreds of British couples are spending thousands of pounds to choose the sex of their baby – despite the practice being illegal in the UK – a Daily Mail investigation has revealed.
To circumvent UK law, some senior British doctors are seeing patients in a private clinic before sending them abroad for the procedure.
The treatment involves taking cells from an embryo conceived via IVF to determine if it has XX or XY chromosomes, which shows the sex of the baby. The desired embryo is then implanted into the womb.
‘Don’t tell your GP’
The investigation suggested that, among those seeking the illegal treatment, there was a preference for boys among couples of Indian and Chinese origin and a preference for girls among white couples.
The doctors referring couples for treatments abroad told their patients not to mention it to their GPs, with one saying it would cause “a lot of aggro”, adding: “There’s no reason at all to involve any of your medical carers.”
For the treatments, patients were sent to clinics in Crete, Cyprus or Dubai, where UK courts have no jurisdiction.
Dr Lisa Cameron MP said: “I hope the fertility regulator will launch a full investigation into this and appropriate action is taken against the medical professionals involved. We need to send a clear message that this is not acceptable.”
The Government has strongly denounced the practice, with a spokesman saying: “Sex selection is strictly prohibited in the UK and the Government takes these allegations extremely seriously.
He added that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) had launched an investigation and will “determine the most appropriate course of action”.
A spokesman for the HFEA said: “Any licensed UK clinic found to be offering sex selection in the UK for non-medical reasons would automatically be in breach of the law.
“We have no control over treatment taking place abroad. We would be extremely concerned about any HFEA licensed centre, or any individual connected to it, promoting and facilitating such treatment.”
A spokesman for the General Medical Council said: “Sex selection on the basis of social reasons alone is illegal in the UK.
“Doctors must work within the law and we would be very concerned to learn of instances where they have failed to do so.”
The doctors exposed by the Daily Mail are unlikely to be prosecuted, however, as giving advice and carrying out tests is not unlawful if the final treatment is carried out abroad.
In its editorial the newspaper said: “There are good reasons why fertility clinics are banned by British law from selecting the sex of embryos they implant, except for pressing medical reasons.
“This immoral practice – increasingly widespread in cultures where boys are prized above girls, or vice versa – is a chilling step towards a brave new world of eugenics and designer babies.”
It said it was “disturbing” to find UK doctors assisting the practice privately, and said doctors should abide by the spirit and letter of the law.
“It is not their job to play God.”