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* Bangkok gender selection IVF seen affordable in China
* Business seen worth $150 mln in 2013, growing 20 pct/yr
* Service providers also targeting Australia
By Byron Kaye and Khettiya Jittapong
SYDNEY/BANGKOK, July 16 At 26, with a baby
daughter, a Hong Kong mother and her husband wanted a second
child. To make sure it would be a boy, they paid $9,000 and flew
to Thailand, the last place in Asia where gender selection
treatment is available and breaks no law.
"In Chinese tradition, a girl and a boy means good,
perfect," said the mother, who requested anonymity. "There's
nothing wrong with girls, but in Hong Kong and Chinese tradition
all families like boys."
The mother is one of hundreds of women from mainland China,
Hong Kong and Australia who visit Bangkok each year for in vitro
fertilisation (IVF) with the option of choosing the child's
gender by discarding fertilised eggs, or embryos, of the
unwanted sex. The only other countries where the technique is
permitted and available are the United States and South Africa -
in both cases at a higher financial cost.
The dozen or so clinics that offer the service in Bangkok
say it gives parents the chance to "balance" the genders in
their growing families, but medical authorities want the
The Medical Council of Thailand, an independent agency that
supervises the country's medical system, says it could encourage
Still, its efforts to stop IVF gender selection have been
complicated by a number of factors. It has no powers to prevent
clinics providing the service because there is no law governing
its practice in Thailand. Despite years of lobbying, the issue
has remained low on the list of political priorities for
successive governments - a point underlined by Thailand's latest
political upheaval and military coup.
In standard IVF practice, a woman's eggs are removed and
fertilised before being returned to the womb. In gender
selection IVF, only embryos of the desired gender are implanted,
a practice mostly shunned amid concerns about couples making a
choice on the right to life based on gender.
"Sex selection for non-medical reasons is not encouraged,
but neither is it prohibited in the U.S., according to the
latest guidelines," the American Medical Association says on its
Website. As in Thailand, South Africa currently has no legal
provision governing the technique.
The business is estimated to be worth about $150 million
last year, according to one Hong Kong agent who organises gender
selection packages. Demand is growing about 20 percent a year,
some Thai providers told Reuters, with the number of clinics
rising to meet it.
With parliament dissolved since last December and an army
government now in power, calls for legislation remain in limbo.
Thailand's Health Ministry referred questions to the Royal Thai
College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the only agency in
the country which gathers specialised information about IVF
Prof. Clin. Wiboolphan Thitadilok, president of the college,
said the agency is working on a fresh set of recommendations on
IVF treatment in general. "We have worked to put this issue into
law for more than 10 years" she told Reuters. "It's not an issue
that politicians will pay much attention to."
Thailand now has 44 IVF clinics in total, with seven new
facilities opened last year and two or three applications for
new clinics being submitted every month, according to the
The Asian country has become the go-to destination for
Chinese couples not willing to leave the gender of their baby to
chance. They pay fees that can run close to $30,000 in some
cases for packages including a cycle of treatment lasting two to
10,000 TREATMENTS A YEAR
Alfred Siu Wing-fung, a Hong Kong agent selling Bangkok
gender selection packages to about 200 Chinese couples a year,
said as well as people from poorer rural areas his business,
Eden Hospitality, had strong demand from wealthy professionals
wanting certainty about their offspring.
Siu estimates about 10,000 gender selection cycles were
carried out in Bangkok last year, at an average cost of $15,000
per treatment. While medical equipment and drugs are imported,
clinics are staffed mostly by Thai doctors and nurses trained
He offers two packages: 280,000 Thai baht ($8,700) for a
basic service including flights and accommodation, and 900,000
baht ($27,800) for VIP treatment, including nannies and
Interest is growing in Australia, where gender selection
treatment is unavailable. Dr Robert Woolcott, director of Genea
Ltd, the third-largest IVF company in Australia, said Genea
routinely recommends that couples wishing to choose the gender
of their baby visit Bangkok's Superior A.R.T. (for Assisted
Reproductive Technology), a clinic it partly owns.
Overall, Australians numbering "in the hundreds per year"
travel to Thailand for gender selection, Woolcott told Reuters.
Back in Hong Kong, the mother, now 28 with a healthy
18-month-old son, is planning for her third child. She probably
won't go back to Bangkok.
"I think the third one should be natural," she said.
($1=32.3500 Thai Baht)
($1=1.0639 Australian Dollars)
(Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom and Manunphattr
Dhanananphorn in BANGKOK; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)