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    Default To ensure prized baby boy, Indians flock to Bangkok

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    Aamita from Delhi has a dark secret. Last year, without telling family or friends, she boarded a plane to Thailand to undergo IVF treatment. A mother of two girls by then, Aamita was perfectly fertile and would have had no problem conceiving again. But she wanted a boy.

    Gender selection is illegal in India, but a growing number of women like Aamita are finding a way round the ban by going to Thailand where there are no laws against it. Doctors use preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a method that involves producing embryos through IVF and implanting only those of the desired gender into the womb. Results are nearly 100% accurate.

    One clinic in Bangkok reports a significant increase in enquiries from India in the last year, while another claims web enquiries from Indian couples have doubled in the past 10 months. At around $8,500, excluding flights, it's not cheap, but it seems a price couples are willing to pay.

    "I don't remember an Indian couple ever asking for a girl," acknowledges Richard Burtan-Sanchez, a consultant at Gender Selection Bangkok.

    Aamita, 35, explains her decision, "I already had two grown-up girls and I never thought I wanted to have another baby. But one day I started thinking I don't have a complete family. My daughters are missing the chance to have a brother: the security, the festivals, gosing to his home when they're older. I didn't want to keep going for an abortion and this way I could be sure of getting a boy. My husband thought I was mad wanting to have a baby at my age. I went by myself to a clinic in Bangkok. I was there for just a week. It was an easy experience, actually more like a holiday."

    Couples from around the world flock to Thailand for cheap, reliable gender selection treatment. But while half of them from the UK, Australia, Europe and the US are looking to have girls to balance their families, Indian couples have only one motivation.

    Indian couples want male heirs. Pooja from Delhi cites an example: "A Page 3 couple went for gender selection, but they won't tell anyone. They're embarrassed that although they're modern in every other way, well travelled, open-minded she wears short skirts they still want a son. There's a lot of money in the family, so they want an heir and to carry on the family name."

    Not everyone has as good an experience as Aamita. Many Indian women turn up in Thailand terrified as their husbands arrange the procedure and leave their wives in the dark right until the last minute. "With Indian couples, around 80% of enquiries are from the husband and not the wife," says Sanchez-Burton. Some men don't tell their wives until very late in the process. "We've had many frantic emails from Indian women asking, can you please tell me what's going to happen? It's the men who want an heir and are being proactive, while the women are not so keen on IVF and are happier to have a girl."

    Priya from Delhi had to go to Bangkok twice and called the process tedious. But she weighed her options and decided going to Thailand was the lesser evil: "The stress of abortion if it is not a boy is too much. So it is easy to go with this choice."

    Others who can't afford the cost of treatment in Thailand are still resorting to traditional methods of gender selection in India, even though they are all banned. And while PGD involves choosing embryos before conception, traditional methods involve killing the foetus at a much later stage in its development. These include having an ultrasound, amniocentesis or fetal blood test to determine the gender. Women then have abortions if they discover they do not have the gender they want.

    Lab director Dr SPS Virk at Virk Hospital in Jalandhar says: "Most know gender selection is illegal, but we still get enquiries. We have to tell them it's not available. Out of a 100 phone call enquiries we get 10-15 ask about having a son."

    What is PGD?

    Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) involves genetic investigation of early stage embryos that have been produced through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to determine their gender. Through IVF, egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside the body. The embryos created are then cultured in the laboratory for three days, when they will have developed into approximately eight cells. Then one or two cells are removed for testing under a powerful microscope, to identify the gender. Embryos of the desired gender are then implanted in the womb.
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