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Groups Protest Proposed Loosening of UK Guidelines on Eggs for Research

Genetic Crossroads
May 12th, 2006

The UK agency that regulates embryo research and assisted reproduction is about to decide whether to loosen its guidelines on the procurement of women's eggs for research. Because of the health risks of the egg retrieval process, the current policy of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is that eggs can be collected only when women are already undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). The HFEA will rule on whether to allow scientists to collect eggs from women solely for research purposes. Also being considered are proposals to allow researchers' relatives to provide eggs, and to permit reduction in the cost of fertility treatments if women agree to give some of their eggs to research.

A letter published in The Guardian from scholars and representatives of several UK and European public-interest organizations called on the HFEA to reject the proposal. "[B]ecause of the inefficiency of cloning, which means that hundreds, maybe thousands, of eggs are needed," they wrote, "researchers are now calling for a change to the ethical rules, allowing for `altruistic' egg donation from women who are not undergoing IVF, and who will receive no therapeutic benefit."

The letter continues, "We are in favour of women's rights to control their bodies and their fertility. We believe that the risks of hormonal hyperstimulation of the ovaries cannot be justified in basic research, in which the benefits are very uncertain: the risk/benefit ratio is far too high. There are alternative approaches to the research goals. The recent cloning research scandal in Korea, in which many women were harmed, should show us the hazards of a scientific race to be the first to create cloned embryos. We call on the HFEA to reject this proposal, which represents a significant danger to women's health, and is a form of exploitation of women's bodies."


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