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Eggs for research: Endangering women's health?

Genetic Crossroads
February 23rd, 2006

Washington Express ad
Washington Express ad

The cloning scandal has highlighted the hazards that procuring eggs for research will pose for women's health. It is important to remember that women's eggs are necessary only for research that involves cloning, and that the emphasis put on this technique by some stem cell scientists may be misplaced. (See "Rethinking research cloning?" above.)

State Senator introduces bill to protect women egg providers

California State Senator Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) has introduced a bill to secure some protections for women who provide eggs for research in the state. SB 1260 was initially a reintroduction of a bill that passed with large margins in the Assembly and Senate last year, but was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger due to a provision unrelated to eggs.

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Deborah Ortiz

Ortiz plans to introduce amendments after the 30-day waiting period that will include following:

The cost of medical treatment for women who suffer adverse medical reactions associated with the egg extraction procedure must be covered by the researcher or sponsor.

Women providing eggs for research can be reimbursed only for direct expenses. These may include childcare, transportation and lodging, but not lost wages.

Physicians conducting the egg extraction procedure must disclose any conflicts of interest in the informed consent document.

Informed consent protocols must ensure that women understand the risks involved and have access to additional resources beyond the physician conducting the procedure.

Several other amendments that provide additional protections are under consideration. If these amendments are included and the bill is passed, California would have raised the standard of protection for women who may provide eggs for biomedical research.

South Korean women's groups file suit for women harmed in cloning research

A coalition of 35 women's organizations in South Korea has announced that it will file a lawsuit on behalf of women who experienced adverse reactions from egg extraction procedures for cloning research, and who were insufficiently informed about the risks. The coalition, which is working with Lawyers for a Democratic Society (Minbyun), asserts that the government has made no move to compensate the women for the physical and emotional harms they suffered.

In a telephone conversation, Sun-Mi Kim, policy director of Korean Women's Associations United, told CGS that she would like to see an international movement working to prevent the kind of abuses that took place in the South Korean cloning experiments from happening elsewhere.

According to a press statement issued by the coalition, "Fifteen women donated eggs more than twice. The Mizmedi Hospital team even collected ova twice from a woman who was hospitalized for side effects after each donation…It is an example of how the embryonic stem cell research, which received full national support, trampled on women's human rights."

The groups say that the government prosecutors are focusing on the researchers' deceit and falsifications, but not on issues related to the well-being of the women from whom they procured eggs.

UK may lift protections for women who provide eggs

The UK agency that oversees assisted reproduction and embryo research, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), is considering new rules that would for the first time allow scientists to recruit women who are not already having fertility or other medical treatment to provide eggs for research. News coverage in The Times (London) was frank about the risks this would pose, acknowledging that these women would "run the risk of damaging their health for no direct benefit to themselves" and that egg extraction "exposes women to potential complications that can cause kidney damage or death."

The HFEA was expected to approve the new proposed rules, but instead decided to postpone its decision until May, citing the need for additional information. HFEA Chair Dame Suzi Leather said, "We are committed to maintaining a broad consensus on embryo research and it is important that we strike a balance between providing safeguards for patients and the interests of scientists."

Related article:

"Donor breakthrough for cloning research," The Times (London) (February 14)

The egg hunt is on

As concern mounts about the risks to women who provide eggs for cloning research, the recruitment of egg providers for assisted reproduction continues. Two display ads in a recent issue of the Express, a free daily newspaper published by the Washington Post, offer women ages 21-32 up to $50,000 to "donate" eggs to infertile couples.

While ads offering "egg donors" multi-thousand dollar sums are commonplace on the Internet and in campus newspapers, display ads mentioning figures as high as $50,000 are not routine. Some observers have raised the possibility that the fertility clinics placing these ads have no intention of paying amounts of this magnitude, but rather are trying to attract women to expand their egg extraction programs.

A health coordinator at the University of Maryland's student health center has raised concerns about fertility clinics that target college-age women to as egg providers, and asked students to think about the health risks and long-term implications of selling their eggs. An article in the campus newspaper, The Diamondback, says that area fertility clinics routinely offer women up to $6,000 for their eggs.

Related articles:

"Cloning: Do we even need eggs?," Nature (February 9)

"Stem cell debate: Should women get paid for eggs?," San Francisco Business Times (February 6)


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