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Review of sex selection


Male and female symbols sex selection reportFollowing the passage of the HFE Act 1990 the HFEA were asked to provide guidelines to licensed clinics on whether sex selection should be offered as a treatment to patients.

The HFEA carried out a broad wide-ranging consultation in 1993 and a subsequent review of the policy in 2002 which gathered the views of all its stakeholders on the social, ethical, legal and practical issues surrounding sex selection.


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1993 consultation

Consultation process

The 1993 consultation on sex selection asked whether it was right for people to use assisted reproductive techniques to choose the sex of their child and if so, for what reasons.

The consultation highlighted the two reasons for why a person might want to choose the sex of their child, either for:

  • Medical reasons; whereby a family could avoid a sex linked hereditary condition by
  • Social reasons, for family balancing or religious/cultural reasons.

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Consultation outcomes

Following the recommendations derived from the consultation, the Authority took the decision not to license any sex testing of embryos for social reasons, but agreed that the HFEA would license PGD for sex selection on medical grounds.

The policy decision on sex selection was presented in the 5th edition of the HFEA Code of Practice.

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2002 consultation

Consultation process

Since the 1993 consultation the variety and efficacy of medical techniques for sex selection has increased.

In view of these developments the Minister for Public Health asked the HFEA in 2002 to conduct a review of sex selection techniques, including their safety, reliability and arrangements for their regulation.

The review specially commissioned research on the scientific and technical issues, and social and ethical issues.

The consultation was informed by both qualitative research, gathered from discussion with members of the public on the complex issues surrounding sex selection, and quantitative research, which included a survey of a representative sample of the UK population.

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Consultation outcomes

The findings from the consultation highlighted the widespread public opposition to sex selection for social reasons.

The consultation findings were reflected in the Authority’s 2002-03 decision which concluded that sex selection for non-medical reasons should not be permitted, whether through sperm sorting or embryo selection. 

This reaffirmed the position adopted by the Authority in 1993.  

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Further information

Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (as amended) the practice of sex selection for social reasons will become prohibited under primary legislation. The revised legislation will continue to allow for the use of sex selection for medical reasons. 

This will come into force from October 2009.

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Supporting documents

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Page last updated: 01 February 2012

Genetic testing

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Learn about pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).

Discover how this technique could help to avoid passing on inherited conditions to any potential child.

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