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16 Jan

It gave the go-ahead after holding a public consultation.

Mr Serhal said: 'It is the same principle as screening of pregnancies at 12 weeks for conditions such as Down's Syndrome.

Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said it would be better to find a cure for cancer than eliminating the carriers.

'People argue it's better than aborting babies that are carriers or afflicted, but two wrongs don't make a right.' She added that in Europe, where the rules are more lax, the technique is already being used to select babies on social grounds.

She was created when doctors at University College Hospital used IVF techniques to harvest 11 embryos.

Six of these were found to contain the BRCA1 gene, and were discarded.

Historic birth: The first British baby designed to be free of breast cancer has been born at University College Hospital in London and is 'doing well'The girl was delivered normally after her parents underwent pioneering treatment to screen out embryos which carried the defective BRCA1 gene.

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BRCA1 and its sister gene BRCA2 are the two most commonly involved.

Women with a defective BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are up to seven times more likely to develop breast cancer than those without the mutations.

Stuart Lavery, joint head of the IVF unit at Hammersmith Hospital in West London and spokesman for the British Fertility Society, said doctors in the U. had for some years been selecting out embryos carrying the BRCA1 gene.

The technique, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), has already been used in the UK to free babies of inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease.

But breast cancer is different because it does not inevitably affect a child from birth, and might or might not develop later in life.