Sex selection? Look at India - Britain debates pros and cons of ?Frankenstein? report

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 24.03.05

London, March 24: A proposal allowing parents the right to choose the sex of their babies has split Britain?s House of Commons cross-party science and technology select committee, with one MP damning its recommendations as a ?Frankenstein? report and another holding up India as a vision of a nightmare society.

The committee is so divided on the question of sex selection of babies in the embryo stage that five of its 10 members have refused to even sign its report.

The committee?s chairman, Dr Ian Gibson, who is a Labour MP, said sex selection should not be dismissed, saying he saw no reason why it would have much social impact.

?It is a possibility that some people might want to choose the sex of their baby but they would have to justify it very hard,? he argued.

He was supported by Britain?s leading fertility expert, Lord Robert Winston. Although not a member of the committee, he said he could see no problem with allowing parents to select the sex of their child.

However, there are many who disagree vehemently with this view. Conservative MP Bob Spink and Labour members Paul Farrelly, Kate Hoey, Tony McWalter and Geraldine Smith branded the report ?Frankenstein?, and said it ?ignores the dignity of human life?.

Spink said: ?I was one of the five who opposed this from the start.?

He explained his fears, holding up India and China as examples of how things could go badly wrong.

Spink stressed: ?This report opens the way to social sex selection and what sort of moral lead does that give in a world where in China and India women are undervalued, disrespected and baby girls are left out to die??

Over the years India has received plenty of negative coverage because scanning devices have allowed parents to find out the sex of unborn foetuses and then abort the females. However, these days coverage tends to focus on success stories from India in business and economy.

?The report is completely wrong ? it is so ridiculous you couldn?t make it up,? Spink went on.

He added: ?It is advising some changes to the law that are completely out of step with public opinion and any concept of ethics and dignity of human life.?

Gibson?s rejoinder to this was: ?In certain countries, for social reasons people might want to have more boys than girls, the developing world and so on. But in this country there is no hard evidence to suggest that selecting the sex of a child would make much social difference.?

Lord Winston, who is based at Hammersmith Hospital in London, also felt the report was right: ?First of all, I think the number of people who will want to choose the sex of their baby, on clinical experience, is very small. At Hammersmith, we have had a handful of requests over the last few years. But people will not go through IVF to choose the sex of their baby and even if they did it would not in any way, I think, damage the fabric of our society.?

He went on: ?Eventually, within the next few years, we are going to have very simple methods of choosing the sex of your baby, as humans have tried for the last few thousand years, through simple methods of sperm sorting that will not involve IVF.?

Winston?s argument is: ?I think it is going to be extraordinarily difficult to regulate that. I think inevitably there will be certain changes to the way we handle our biology and to some extent I think it is dubious whether that should be regulated.?

He said: ?People will still want to conceive naturally and I don?t think sex selection would change the balance of the population.?

The dissidents are not to be pacified.

Geraldine Smith, one of the opposing MPs, said: ?This is on par with a Frankenstein report. It is outrageous. It was always going to be controversial but to adopt such an extreme, libertarian view is biased and is asking for trouble.?