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Call for Public Comments on UK Eggs-for-Research Policy

Genetic Crossroads
November 15th, 2006

Donating Eggs for Research

The UK government is seeking public input into its pending decision about policy on procuring women's eggs for stem cell research. It will determine whether to allow researchers to recruit women to provide eggs specifically for research purposes, and if so, what safeguards would be needed.

Currently, UK researchers are permitted to use eggs provided by women who are undergoing IVF or sterilization procedures, or eggs that fail to fertilize during IVF cycles. They cannot approach women who wouldn't otherwise be exposed to the risks of egg retrieval.

The "public consultation" on eggs for research is a project of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which oversees and regulates assisted reproduction and research involving human embryos.

UK feminists, environmentalists, and social justice advocates hope for a large number of submitted comments, including many from outside the UK.

A 26-page consultation document [PDF] summarizes the issues related to egg retrieval for research, identifies potential problems and suggested safeguards, and includes five pages of questions that are also available in an on-line response form. The comment period is open until December 8.

The HFEA has granted licenses to two research teams trying to produce clonal embryos, and some question whether the agency would seriously consider restricting scientists' access to women's eggs. Although the HFEA describes the consultation as one that will determine whether women should be recruited to provide eggs for research, its title—Donating eggs for research: safeguarding donors—seems to assume that the question has been answered. And an HFEA press release pointedly notes the argument by scientists "that in order for scientific research to progress, greater numbers of good quality, fresh eggs are needed."

In the same press release, however, HFEA Chief Executive Angela McNab said, "We know the importance of scientific development, but it is our job to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for the patients and donors that make it possible. If that is not the case then we must act to protect their interests."


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