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 Inside Out - West Midlands: Monday September 6, 2004

DESIGNER BABIES

Baby
Would you choose the sex of your baby?

"You can't choose your family…" as the saying goes, but according to one West Midlands clinic - for the sum of £4,000 - you can.

Inside Out goes undercover to investigate the Gender Clinic's claims that they can determine the sex of a baby with 90% accuracy.

Giving birth to a healthy, full term baby is what most expectant couples long for.

But for some, desperation for a baby of a particular sex - either to complete a family or to carry on male lineage - forces them to turn to medical science for help. But how reliable is it?

In a shopping arcade in Erdington, the Birmingham Gender Clinic use a technique which they claim can determine the sex of a child with at least 90% accuracy.

Yet experts in the field of human reproduction insist that there is no independent data to suggest such accurate sex selection is possible.

Inside Out goes undercover to find out more.

A numbers game

Sperm
Does sperm determine the sex of the baby?

Posing as a couple desperate for a baby boy, our Inside Out undercover team arranges a meeting with Clinic Director, Anna Tranter.

Using a technique developed by American Ronald J Ericsson, Anna claims they can determine the sex of a child with at least 90% accuracy.

"You would have at least 90% chance of conceiving with a boy," claims Anna.

"That's the minimum, we have been as high as 96 to 98%."

Ericsson's technique claims to filter male from female sperm by repeatedly passing them through a jelly-like substance.

The method relies on the notion that male sperm swim faster than female, so more make it to the bottom of the test tube.

Ericsson claims a 75-80% success rate - a figure that fails to tally with Anna Tranter's impressive claims.

When asked about the clinic's claims of 90-98% success, Dr Ericsson told us he would never make such claims and neither should the clinic.

"If it can be verified then they have made a brilliant advance. A sceptic would say they are just lying."
Chris Barratt

"She says there is a 90% chance of conceiving with a boy," says Professor Chris Barratt - an expert in the field of human reproduction.

"There is no independent data to support that whatsoever.

The hard sell

For the £4,000 fee, the clinic offers four attempts and as an incentive, our couple is offered a free scan worth £500 - the catch? Our couple has to sign up that day, paying the fee in full.

Chris Barratt doesn't approve of the sales technique employed, but he confirms that Anna Tranter has offered reasonable medical advice.

The clinic offers a refund if either partner is infertile, but not of course if the baby is the wrong sex.

Should a scan reveal that the baby is not of the desired sex, the couple is required by the Gender Clinic's contract to proceed with the pregnancy - it is illegal to terminate on the grounds of gender alone.

Anna Tranter takes pains to stress that as a private clinic, all records are strictly confidential.

"You have to sign to say you'll go full term, but these papers don't go anywhere," explains Anna.

"You would tell us that you miscarried or whatever's happened and then you can come back," she continues. "It's normally three months afterwards, there has to be a bit of a gap."

Trading on desperation

Pregnant woman
The clinic targets desperate women through local newspaper adverts

There's a market for sex selection in all communities but there is still particular pressure in some parts of the Asian community to give birth to a boy.

The Gender Clinic targets its marketing accordingly and adverts for the clinic's services appear in a Punjabi newspaper.

"It is making money out of innocent people, especially from the Asian community," says Asian community worker, Sharda Lavignia.

And through local newspapers, the clinic similarly hopes to target people like Nicola Norris - a mother to three boys.

"I had absolutely convinced myself it was going to be a girl… when they told me it was another boy, I burst into tears."

But no matter how desperate Nicola may be to balance her family, she insists that the Gender Clinic is not an option she would consider.

"They are playing on people's vulnerabilities and desperation. If I paid to have a girl and fell into that very few percent they say I could fall into, I have absolutely no comeback against them."

Right to reply

Professor Chris Barratt
Professor Chris Barratt remains sceptical about the clinic's claims

The service provided by the clinic is perfectly legal and the method it uses means it doesn't need a licence from anyone except DR Ericsson.

Inside Out has repeatedly requested an interview with the Birmingham Gender Clinic in order to supply evidence supporting their claims.

The clinic declined, claiming they had been misrepresented by the media in the past.

Without any evidence, experts like Chris Barratt can come to only one conclusion.

"They are asking patients to pay up a large sum of money for technology that is basically tossing a coin… it's a simple as that."

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
Parenting - Having a baby
News: Britons 'would choose baby's sex'
News - Pregnancy: the facts

On the rest of the web
Family Planning Association

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

davindr kaur5
i agree that it is to much to pay for this service and that some parents are desperate for a particular sex. but if desperate it will still be cheap to pay that amount especially in the Asian community for a male baby to keep the family it is pressure.



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