A UK couple whose only daughter died following a bonfire accident have abandoned their attempts to have a baby girl using embryo sex selection. Alan and Louise Masterton applied to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for permission to use PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) to choose their baby's sex in 2000, but their request was turned down. The Mastertons later travelled to a clinic in Italy for the treatment, paying £30,000, but all three of their attempts proved unsuccessful.
Mrs Masterton was sterilised after the birth of her daughter Nicole, who was three years old when she died in 1999. The couple wanted to use IVF to try for a baby girl, by removing Mrs Masterton's eggs and fertilising them with laser-sorted sperm from Mr Masterton. Laser-sorting can separate sperm carrying a male Y chromosome from those carrying an X chromosome, but the procedure is not 100 per cent effective. So the couple also wanted to use PGD, to ensure that only female embryos were put back into Mrs Masterton's womb. The couple, who have four boys aged between 15 and 20 years, said they were not trying to replace their daughter, but wanted the chance to try for another girl.
In the UK, embryo sex selection is not permitted, unless carried out for medical reasons - such as in families with a history of a serious gender-specific genetic condition. No fertility clinics were willing to challenge the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFEA)'s policy on sex selection, so the Mastertons paid for treatment at the private Biogenesi clinic in Rome. In their first attempt, they obtained only a single, male embryo, which they asked doctors to donate to an infertile couple. Following two further unsuccessful attempts, in which female embryos were implanted, the couple have now decided that 'enough is enough'. Louise Masterton said she was unable to go through the trauma of further IVF treatment, adding 'knowing that the embryos that were implanted were female, and then losing them, made me feel like I had lost more daughters'.
In 2001, the Mastertons received an apology from the HFEA for mishandling their case, following a year-long investigation by the parliamentary ombudsman. However, the authority did not overturn its decision. In November 2003, the HFEA announced the results of its public consultation on sex selection, which asked whether people in the UK believe that techniques used to select the sex of a prospective child should be made available for non-medical purposes. Roughly 80 per cent of the 600 respondents said no. The HFEA recommended that sperm sorting should become regulated in the UK, and that the current policy of only allowing sex selection to avoid serious medical conditions should continue.
The Mastertons say they will continue to campaign for a change in the law governing sex selection. 'At least we got the opportunity to do what we felt was right for our family, even if it was unsuccessful', said Alan Masterton, adding that 'we have given up but we will keep the cause alive and participate in any debates on the issue and the need for change in the HFEA'.