A leading NHS fertility doctor is making money by sending couples abroad to choose the sex of their unborn baby – a procedure that is illegal in Britain.
Gynaecologist Charles Kingsland, clinical director of Britain’s largest NHS fertility unit and a former inspector for the fertility watchdog, refers at least one woman a week to a clinic in Northern Cyprus to be implanted with a selected embryo.
Last night a leading cross-bench peer demanded an urgent inquiry into the ‘enormous moral issues’ after a Mail on Sunday investigation revealed that:
Mr Kingsland uses NHS premises and staff to organise for profit a medical procedure that is illegal in Britain. Couples are paying up to £14,000 for the controversial service – more than four times the cost of standard private fertility treatment. Mr Kingsland tells patients he must cover up his involvement by claiming to be ‘ignorant’ of their reasons for travelling to Cyprus. Mr Kingsland agreed to make the arrangements for an undercover Mail on Sunday investigator to undergo the procedure – even though there was no evidence that she could not conceive naturally.
Normally such a young, healthy woman with no known fertility problems would not qualify for IVF treatment on the NHS until she had spent at least a year trying to get pregnant by natural means.
Mr Kingsland also told her it was ‘better your GP doesn’t know anything’ about the treatment.
Sex selection was made illegal in Britain by the Human Fertilisation And Embryology Act 2008 except on very narrow medical grounds. However, the UK Cypriot Fertility Association (UKCFA), in which Mr Kingsland is a shareholder, is offering it to women who want to choose the gender of their child for purely social reasons.
On its website, the company advertises that the ‘family balancing’ treatment will be carried out at its affiliated clinic, the Cyprus IVF Centre in Famagusta, in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The state – which is not recognised diplomatically by any nation other than Turkey – is the only place in Europe where sex selection is legal.
Our undercover reporter paid £200 for an initial consultation with 53-year-old Mr Kingsland in the Hewitt Centre for Reproductive Medicine, which is based at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, where he is clinical director. He admitted that the treatment was illegal in Britain, but that many women select the gender of their embryo ‘just because they fancy it’.
However, he said the procedure was ‘perfectly doable’ for a cost of about £11,000 and that he would prepare our reporter for treatment. He suggested he would have to feign ignorance about the real reason for her trip to Cyprus.
Selecting the gender of a baby by sex has provoked intense debate in recent years. Critics claim it is ‘playing God’ and could lead to the creation of ‘designer babies’ where parents map out every detail of their unborn child without having to resort to donor eggs or sperm.
In China and India it is not uncommon to abort female foetuses because of a preference for male children, and it is feared that legalising gender selection in Britain could encourage this bias among some communities.
Although the UKCFA does not directly profit from providing the services carried out in the Cypriot clinic, it makes money by advising and preparing couples for the controversial procedures abroad.
Couples who contact the company are given consultations to determine their fertility and medical history, followed by tests for HIV and hepatitis. Patients are then given injections to control the body’s hormone production and stimulate the ovaries into producing eggs.
A crucial injection is administered 36 hours before flying to Cyprus which prepares the eggs for release. The company says a stay in Cyprus of seven to ten days is necessary. A secretary at the Hewitt Centre, Jackie McGlashan, acts as unofficial travel co-ordinator for the company.
She told our undercover reporter: ‘I’ve worked for the Hewitt for 15 years but two days a week I can do this from home. Let me know your dates and I can help you sort out travel and save you money.’ Recommended hotels include the £44-a-night Salamis Bay in Famagusta, which is a £7.60 taxi ride from the clinic, or upmarket hotels in quiet, picturesque Kyrenia 30 miles away, such as the five-star Mercure hotel and the boutique Bellapais Monastery resort.
At the Cypriot clinic, couples undergo standard IVF to create embryos, which are then screened to identify their gender. Two embryos of the required sex are transplanted back into the womb, with the remaining embryos stored, donated to other couples or ‘allowed to perish’, according to Mr Kingsland. Couples have a 50 per cent chance of a successful pregnancy – comparable to normal IVF success rates.
‘We have many patients from England. Some of them come because we are able to do gender selection – which you can’t get in the UK.’ Patients pay the UKCFA for treatment carried out in Britain: £3,215 if women use their own eggs, or £2,355 if using donor eggs. The Cyprus clinic is paid between £8,000 and £11,000 for providing its treatment directly by the couple.
The clinic was set up in 2005 by Cypriot-born gynaecologist Dr Halil Tekan. It occupies part of a modern four-storey building in the north-eastern resort of Famagusta, which is also home to a pharmacy, laboratory and cafe.
The site is beside a main highway and a sign for the fertility centre, featuring a large logo of a sperm and an egg, is displayed prominently above the front entrance. A secretary, Hanze Neara, said: ‘We have many patients from England. Some of them come because we are able to do gender selection – which you can’t get in the UK.’
Its website boasts of its ‘unique partnership’ with the UKCFA.
On his profile on the Liverpool Women’s Hospital website, Mr Kingsland says he is an inspector for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. However, the regulator said that he had not been employed by them for six years
He worked for them as an inspector and external adviser, and in 2004 he sat on a committee advising on safety issues. In his role with the HFEA he would have had the authority to report IVF units that performed sex selection for purely social reasons for potential legal action.
The procedure is strictly limited to couples whom doctors deem to be at particular risk from passing down serious gender-specific genetic diseases, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which affects only boys.
Last night, cross-bench peer Lord David Alton, a member of the all-party Parliamentary Pro-Life group, called for an urgent debate. Lord Alton, who was an MP for Liverpool for 18 years, said: ‘The HFEA should undoubtedly be debating this issue if it is its duty to 'shelter the embryo' as its chair Lisa Jardine has claimed. It can make recommendations to Parliament and introduce penalties. The financial connection should be probed. If you have a doctor with a vested interest in organising treatment that’s illegal in the UK, that raises enormous moral issues.
‘I have a big problem with the way the human embryo is regarded and oppose sex selection. It means more embryos are destroyed if they are not ideal.
‘It also means there are risks to women who would not normally undergo fertility treatment. It is deplorable that there are these ways to circumvent the law in Britain.’
He said that three million embryos had been destroyed since 1991, most of them following fertility cycles.
'I made it very clear this is illegal in the UK' Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said it was shocking that British specialists would dismiss the ethical concerns.
She added: ‘IVF was developed to address genuine infertility problems, not to facilitate discriminatory social engineering of this kind.
‘Worldwide prejudice against girls has resulted in countries such as China and India as what is now described as gendercide, with des¬truction taking place either at the pre-implantation stage or sub¬sequently by selective abortion.’
The UKCFA is the trading name of Anglo Cypriot Limited, which was established in April 2008. Companies House documents show Mr Kingsland, who lives in a £500,000 cottage on the Wirral peninsula, is a named shareholder, while his gynaecologist colleague at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, Mehmet Gazvani, is director. Mr Kingsland’s wife Karen, a nurse, is secretary.
The firm has filed abbreviated accounts for the past two years which do not show profit and loss figures, but the total funds available to shareholders on April 30, 2010, were £40,914.
An HFEA spokesman said: ‘The HFEA has no powers to prevent a clinic sending a patient overseas for a treatment that would otherwise be disallowed here.’
The General Medical Council would not comment, but said a doctor had a duty to act within the laws of the UK. The Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust would not comment.
When confronted by our undercover reporter last night, father-of-three Mr Kingsland said: ‘I would like to think I gave you a very balanced view of what actually happens and of my involvement.
‘I made it very clear to you that this is illegal in the UK, I hope. ‘At no point did I tell you we could offer you sex selection in the UK because that’s the case – we can’t. It’s illegal.
‘But I did make it clear I could point you in the right direction. If you do require that treatment then I... we can facilitate that but not in this country. We haven’t done anything wrong.’
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