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'Designer baby' boom ruled out

Last updated 01:07 20/06/2008

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Experts  doubt a controversial recommendation to allow parents to pick the sex of their unborn babies will gain much traction.

The Bioethics Council, a ministerial advisory committee, has recommended lifting the ban on using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to select a baby's gender purely for social reasons.

Associate Environment Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the recommendations in the council's report would be considered by a ministerial group.

Under laws introduced four years ago, gender selection is banned, except when there is a risk that the child will be born with a gender-linked genetic condition, such as haemophilia. It is also banned in Australia and Britain, but the United States has no restrictions.

The Government announced public funding for PGD in 2005, enough to fund about 40 cycles a year for couples at risk of passing a serious condition to their children. It expected about 110 cycles to be paid for privately.

But Fertility Associates director Richard Fisher said yesterday the total numbers being screened were far lower. "There's probably not more than 60 cycles."

Though the council's report was "very reasonable", gender selection had already been rejected by the health select committee and "was put to bed" in the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act 2004.

Dr Fisher said it was illegal even to have a conversation with clients about gender selection.

But he was aware of couples who had travelled overseas after searching for information on the Internet. Such people tended to have at least two children of one gender already.

"When you stand in their shoes, it's quite difficult to come up with a reason why the community should stop them doing what they want to do."

Even if gender selection was made legal, few were likely to take up the option. "It's a very expensive technology ... No one is going to do it without considerable thought."

Advisory committee on assisted reproductive technology chairwoman Sylvia Rumball said yesterday that its advice to the Government did not contain any recommendations about gender selection because the law contained an "explicit prohibition" against it.

Nor had it been asked by the Government to look at the issue.

 The Catholic Bioethics Centre expressed concern that sex selection would take pre-birth testing out of a medical context and allow its use for social reasons.

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The Disabled Persons Assembly said the recommendations failed to protect disabled people from a "designer baby" future.

 WHO IS BORN

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) can be used with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to test early embryos for serious inherited genetic conditions. Only embryos without the conditions are transferred to a woman's uterus.

The Bioethics Council says the ban on using PGD for gender selection should be lifted. "As far as sex selection for the purposes of `family balancing' is concerned, we have not heard sufficient cultural, ethical or spiritual concerns to justify banning it - providing PGD is undertaken at the parents' own cost," it says in its report Who Gets Born?

Other recommendations include more research into the use of "saviour siblings" - embryos created in pre-birth testing to help sick siblings.

 

- The Dominion Post

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