Fertility regulator ignored designer baby IVF scandal for 15 years

Top fertility expert Lord Winston claims regulators ignored his repeated warnings over British doctors offering ‘illegal’ gender selection – for 15 YEARS

  • Lord Winston said regulators have ignored warnings of IVF gender selection 
  • It is illegal to chose the sex of a baby when undergoing IVF treatment in the UK 
  • It is only permissible if there is a serious risk of the child inheriting a disease 
  • Doctors are referring British couples to Dubai or north Cyprus for treatment  

Fertility regulators ignored warnings about British doctors helping ‘illegal’ gender selection for 15 years, Lord Winston alleged yesterday.

Britain’s leading fertility expert said he has long warned about couples being sent abroad to choose the sex of their baby, only for his concerns to fall on deaf ears.

Lord Winston says he ‘repeatedly’ raised the scandal and accused the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) of being ‘extremely slow’ to act. He spoke out after a Mail investigation revealed that UK doctors are helping couples with gender selection, including an NHS consultant acting in a private capacity.

Robert Winston, pictured, has warned the fertility regulator about some doctors in Britain being willing to offer ‘designer babies’ to couples undergoing IVF treatment allowing them to chose the sex of their child

Couples can only chose the sex of their child in Britain if there is a chance of it inheriting a serious disease

Allowing IVF couples to choose the sex of their baby is illegal in the UK except when a child risks inheriting a serious disease. But undercover Mail reporters found the British doctors assist gender selection for social reasons by completing preliminary tests and scans in the UK before sending patients to clinics in North Cyprus, Crete and Dubai for the final treatment.

Following our expose, the HFEA launched an investigation, saying it would be ‘extremely concerned’ about anyone promoting and facilitating such treatment.

But Lord Winston, who works for the Genesis Research Trust at Imperial College London, said: ‘I have repeatedly raised concerns about this so it is surprising to now see the HFEA throw up its hands in horror when it didn’t do so before.

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‘The law on gender selection in this country has to be upheld or it makes a complete nonsense of the fertility regulator. The HFEA has been extremely slow in acting on it.

‘Women who go abroad for IVF can come back with complications, such as multiple embryos, which the NHS then needs to deal with. This is just another example of how the fertility regulator has failed.’

There are growing calls for the doctors at the centre of the claims to face a full General Medical Council inquiry.

Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, yesterday called for a GMC inquiry. ‘The HFEA allows gender selection only for medical reasons, to prevent serious hereditary diseases.

‘Where there is evidence it is being carried out or facilitated for social reasons, not only should the HFEA investigate but the GMC should also do so.’

A Daily Mail investigation on Monday found some doctors were willing to cash in on the trend of ‘illegal’ designer babies

Committee member Rosie Cooper said: ‘I can only wonder why it has taken so long for the HFEA to react. This is clearly a way to make money by evading UK laws on gender selection. The GMC should also investigate this practice.’

Another committee member, Johnny Mercer, said: ‘These are disturbing allegations if there are individuals lining their pockets for such a morally dubious procedure. This should be investigated by the GMC.’

Sarah Norcross, director of fertility charity the Progress Educational Trust, said: ‘These doctors may not be breaking the law but they are not acting in the spirit of the law. If they believe that patients should be able to choose the sex of their children, then they should campaign to change the law rather than seeking to circumvent it.’

A HFEA spokesman said: ‘We are confident that the vast majority of the UK’s fertility clinics do not recommend sex selection either at home or abroad. However, we take allegations of sex selection seriously and will investigate any specific cases brought to our attention.

‘We have no powers to regulate treatment that takes place abroad, but we do offer extensive advice on our website for any patients considering treatment outside the UK.’

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