A British doctor is allegedly circumventing the UK's laws against sex-selective fertility treatments by referring patients to a clinic in Cyprus. So is he doing anything wrong?
According to the Mirror, National Health Service gynecologist Charles Kingsland sent up to one patient a week to Cyprus, where implanting an embryo of a chosen sex is legal. He also apparently told one patient to keep her procedure a secret, saying it was "better your GP doesn't know anything." Unfortunately for him, that "patient" was an undercover Mail reporter, and Kingsland's face is now splashed across the British tabloids.
He claims he's done nothing wrong, telling the reporter, "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." And simply advising someone of options in other countries wouldn't seem to violate the law. However, there's a complicating factor: Kingsland is a shareholder in the UK Cypriot Fertility Association, an affiliate of the Cypriot clinic where Kingsland routed his patients. According to Jo MacFarlane of the Daily Mail, "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." So Kingsland could have profited — albeit somewhat indirectly — from referring women to Cyprus. And since sex-selective fertility treatment in Cyprus costs far more than standard treatment in Britain, Kingsland might actually have been benefiting from the very illegality of the procedure, which might well be cheaper if it could be legally done in the UK.
Sex selection involves its own series of moral dilemmas that fertility experts and bioethicists will be wrestling with for a long time. But Kingsland's story seems less like a peek into the future of reproductive ethics and more like a story of good, old-fashioned graft. If the accusations are true, he set up a pipeline of patients to a facility in which he had a financial stake, essentially exploiting a disparity in fertility law for his own monetary gain. The Mail also notes that, as late as 2004, Kingsland worked as an inspector for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, meaning "he would have had the authority to report IVF units that performed sex selection for purely social reasons for potential legal action." The paper doesn't appear to have evidence that he used this position to weed out competitors, but the conflict of interest alone is pretty sketchy. In the end, Kingsland's story says less about the morality of sex selection than it does about the potential for malfeasance within any tightly regulated industry, and the need to protect patients from being exploited by unscrupulous providers.