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DESIGNER BABIES CLINIC FACING BAN; Legal loophole allows couples to choose child's sex for pounds 5,000.

Byline: BY FIONNUALA BOURKE

A CONTROVERSIAL Midland clinic which exploits a legal loophole to offer a 'designer baby' service could soon be outlawed.

Couples are told they can choose the sex of their unborn baby at the Birmingham Gender Clinic, in Bath Row, Edgbaston.

One course of treatment costs pounds 5,000 and couples are told that there is an 87 per cent success rate.

No reasons have to be given by the would-be parents other than they would prefer a child of a particular sex.

Former health minister and Edgbaston Labour MP Gisela Stuart has branded the service 'unethical'.

And the Government is planning to ban choosing the sex of babies for social reasons - a move backed by the regulatory body, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority.

But the clinic is misleading would-be clients by telling them that the service is approved by the authorities, and will be regulated by the HFEA from next year.

A Sunday Mercury reporter latercontacted the company, posing as a potential client who wanted to balance her family by choosing the sex of her next baby.

She was told that the service was completely legitimate and approved by the authorities.

When officially approached by the Mercury about their work, the clinic denied the Government wanted to ban its services and refused to discuss the business further.

Before slamming down the phone, a spokesman said: "That is completely untrue. We have no comment to make to you."

It is currently illegal to offer sex selection treatment for social reasons. But the Birmingham clinic uses a sperm-sorting method using fresh samples, a treatment which is currently unregulated by the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority.

Now the Government is proposing to tighten up the law to prevent all sex selection for nonmedical reasons.

Health Minister Caroline Flint said allowing parents to pick sex for reasons such as 'balancing' the make-up of their family could be the start of a 'slippery slope' to designer babies.

While giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee Ms Flint said she was minded to introduce 'a clear and specific ban' on the use of techniques to choose gender.

The Department of Health is currently conducting a review of the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

As part of the review, a consultation exercise was carried out which suggested the public did not want sex selection for reasons such as 'family balancing'.

The HFEA has been waiting for a new draft bill containing this provision.

"The service offered by this clinic is highly unethical," said Birmingham MP Ms Stuart.

"Even if they are operating through a loophole, what they are offering is wrong.

"This area of medicine has to be practised under strict ethical guidelines. Every time there is new technology, the laws need to be reconsidered."

fionnuala_bourke@mrn.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

CONTROVERSIAL: the Birmingham Gender Clinic, and (inset) Gisela Stuart MP' CRITICISED: Gisela Stuart
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 23, 2006
Words:486
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