Parents will be allowed to choose the sex of their baby under proposed new legislation, it emerged yesterday.
The right of parents to decide the gender to avoid passing on a serious inherited disease will be part of the first law regulating fertility treatments and will permit couples to only implant a healthy embryo in the womb.
Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan revealed yesterday the technique known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis will be permitted.
"Sex selection would only be permitted where there is a significant risk of a child being born with a serious genetic disease," he said.
Dr Holohan was before the Oireachtas Health Committee where officials were outlining the general scheme of the long- awaited legislation to covering the ever-expanding area of assisted human reproduction.
Fertility clinics and treatments are currently not subject to any regulation, but the proposed legislation will involve the setting-up of an overall watchdog, the Assisted Human Regulatory Authority.
Other proposals include allowing surplus embryos to be used for research, after the consent of parents.
Women will be allowed to be assessed for fertility treatment up to the age of 47 years but there will be no age restriction for men.
Dr Holohan said the level of State subsidy for people undergoing treatments - which currently cost thousands of euro a cycle and must be paid for privately - had yet to be determined.
Surrogacy will be permitted but no money can change hands.
He said there would be a requirement for all surrogacy agreements to be pre-authorised by the regulatory authority.
"This pre-authorisation process will help to safeguard the welfare of the parties involved in the surrogacy agreement, in particular any child who may potentially be born as a result of that agreement, as well as the surrogate involved.
"The scheme sets out a court-based mechanism through which the parentage of a child born through surrogacy may be transferred from the surrogate - and her husband, if applicable - to the intending parent."
Single people and gay couples will be allowed to avail of State-sponsored fertility treatments.
He said the number of cycles for fertility procedures conducted in clinics in Ireland was increasing.
For example, the provision of treatment has risen from 7,589 cycles in 2009 to almost 9,000 in 2016.
The legislation has yet to be drafted and proposals are to go back to Cabinet in the coming months. Aspects must also be refined by the Attorney General.
He said that, to support the commencement of the legislation, the department would work with the HSE during 2018.
The aim is to develop a model of care for infertility and establish an implementation committee to ensure that the drafting of the legislation and the development of specific eligibility arrangements can all proceed.