Genesis of Eden

Genesis Home

Doctor's happy playing God NZ Herald 19 Mar 97

$25,000 buys an embryo in the sex of the patient's choice

A doctor. guaranteeing parents the ability to choose the sex of their baby tells ALEX PERRY he sees himself as a pioneer working to avoid suffering.

LONDON - Launching what he claims is the "world's first 100 per cent guaranteed baby sex selection project," British gynaeoologist Paul Rainsbury is unbothered by criticism that he is playing God. "The reality is that advances in human knowledge mean doctors and scientists have ever greater opportunities to play God - many of which society welcomes in improving the quality of life, or the relief of suffering," he said. 'Surgery is playing God and interfering with nature. Heart transplant surgery, that's playing God, so what's -the difference?" Dr Rainsbury offers parents the chance to choose the sex of their unborn child by embryo selection for the equivalent of about $25,000. Using existing in-vitro fertilization (IM technology, his clinics in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Naples, Italy, will take eggs and sperm from the couple, fertlise the eggs in a laboratory, then choose an embryo with the pre- ferred sex to implant in the womb. Dr Rainsbury said the sex of the fertilised egg is evident after about 48 hours. The rate of Hve births will be the same as those for IVF. The difference is that the sex of any foetus that is bom is "100 per cent guaranteed.' Present sex-choice techniques involving sperm selection provide only an increased probability of one oi the other. He opened his clinics abroad because Britain allows sex selection only to avoid sex-linked ge- netic disorders such as haemo- phflia and cystic fibrosis. Dr Rainsbury, aged 54, studied IVF under Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, the British physicians who pioneered the world's first 'test tube baby," Louise Brown, in Cambridge in 1978. In applying techniques that have existed for 10 years to sex selection, he said, "it was simply a question of who would be first to grasp the nettle." Dr Rainsbury's professional peers and British politicians have accused him of "flagrant ethical violations" and disturbing the balance of nature. Women's groups say he is prejudicing the status of the female sex in society. He said he was alarmed by the force of the negative-reaction, but that it was balanced by inquiries from parents keen on choosing the sex of their children. "There was a terrible furore when Louise Brown was born," he said. 'Now it's totally accepted. Half a million babies have been born using that technology. This is simply an extension of that work. In three or four years, these objections will be outdated and sex selection will be part of family life. In Saudi Arabia, they love it." Asked about his religious beliefs, he said: 'Church of England. I believe in God.' Dr Raimbury said his clinics have a place in a world where sex selection is already comonly practised but in cruel and inhumane way, the result of pressure to produce a male heir in many parts of the Middle and Far East and Africa. The fundamental difference in what he is offering and what exists, he said, is that "they make the choice post-natally.' "Around the world tens of thousands of babies, whose only crime was being bom of the 'wrong' sex, are deliberately abandoned to starve and die.' He expects 90 per cent of his clients to come from outside Europe, but added that he would he happy to treat any couples wanting a 'balanced ... complete" fanilly. Dr Rainsbury acknowledged that cost may bar many couples from his clinics, but insisted 'by launching this progranime we will hasten the day when this service does become widely and freely available.' There are 15 or 20 clinics worldwide secretly offering sex selection, he said, but he is "biting the bullet" by going public to break the taboo. Ultimately, like Drs Steptoe and Edwards before him, Dr Rainsbury would like to be seen as a pioneer. - AFP

Fertility on Ice still ethical dilemma NZ Herald 9 Sep 98


Career couples in New Zealand who want to put their fertuility on ice will keenly watch developments across the Tasman. The Royal Womeifs Hospital in Melboume announced this week that it would freeze the embryos, eggs and ovarian tissues of couples who decide to delay starting a family for lifestyle reasons. But after an angry response from family and church groups, the hospital's divisional director of surgery, Dr John McBain, said an ethics committee had yet to approve the proposal. Dr Fisher said there was plenty of time to construct an etldcal framework for delaying fertuity, because more research was needed. One in 10 frozen embryos implanted resulted in a pregnancy, but the use of ovarian tissue was still experimental. A director of the Fertility Plus clinic at National Women's Hospital in Auckland, Dr Guy Gudex, said although ovarian tissue could be frozen, it had not yet been thawed successfully. Eggs stored in the tissue had to be artificially matured before they could be fertilised. The process would appeal especially to single women who wanted to ensure their fertility as they grew older, he said. Some genetic material could be frozen indefiwtely. "In theory, there's no limit to how long an em- bryo lasts." Dr Gudex said couples had to sign a consent forin dictating the embryo's fate if they separated or died. A lecturer in reproductive science at National Women's, Dr Andrew Shelling, said storing eggs or ovarian tissue would help women who underwent early menopause. If women stored eggs while they were young and fertile, they could "bring them out of the freezer when they wanted children." In London, leading fertility expert Dr Robert Forman has predicted that within 25 years, infertile or busy couples will be able to create offspring by fertilizing the egg in a test tube and gestating the embryo in an artiflcial womb. Ajoint British-Japanese research team has already developed an artificial womb for embryonic goats and says it should be fully developed for human use in 10 years.

Return to Genesis of Eden?