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Genetic Crossroads
December 17th, 2002

The United Kingdom's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) recently announced that it has initiated a public consultation on sex selection. The consultation covers all three types of sex selection: 1) pre-natal testing and termination of pregnancy, 2) pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and selection of embryos (PGD), and 3) sperm sorting-the selection of sperm carrying either an X or Y chromosome.

The HFEA does not currently allow PGD for non-medical sex selection. No legislation in the UK addresses sperm sorting, and UK fertility clinics are now marketing it to Indian communities there. The HFEA is considering three options: that sperm sorting be banned, be allowed but regulated, or be allowed to continue without regulations.

In the United States, no federal laws or regulations cover sex selection. Sperm sorting is increasingly being commercially advertised. Some US fertility clinics openly advertise the use of PGD for non-medical sex selection, in spite of widespread condemnation of this practice. Ethnically targeted marketing of sex selection also takes place in the US.

Human Genetics Alert, a nonprofit public interest organization based in London, is organizing a campaign to encourage the HFEA to strengthen its opposition to non-medical sex selection. As its background statement explains, permitting parents to choose the sex of a future child on the grounds of "preference" would make it far more difficult to draw lines against genetic modification to select or engineer children for characteristics such as appearance and IQ.

Although far from perfect, the UK regulatory system is often regarded as a good model for regulation of reproductive technologies. The results of the current consultation could set an important precedent. Sex selection is an issue of global concern, and the HFEA is likely to take the views of non-UK citizens into account.

We urge you to visit Human Genetics Alert's web site at http://www.hgalert.org/whatsnew/ for more information on sex selection and the HFEA consultation, and for an electronic postcard to the HFEA to express your views on sex selection.


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