California Lawmakers Consider Paying Women to Provide Eggs for Research

Posted by Diane Tober May 2, 2013
Biopolitical Times

A bill being considered in the California legislature would allow researchers to pay women cash for their eggs. If passed, it would overturn established policies including guidelines from the National Academy of Sciences, the rules of the California stem cell agency, and a 2006 California law authored by then-state Senator Deborah Ortiz, known as a champion of women’s health and medical research. All these policies state that women who undergo egg retrieval for research can be compensated for their expenses, but not paid beyond that.

The new bill, AB 926, is sponsored by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which instigated the proposed legislation and is lobbying hard for it. Misleadingly worded to suggest that the bill promotes equity for women by offering “fair compensation,” the bill is really about trying to increase the number of eggs for research—where there is a perceived “shortage” of eggs and competition with the infertility industry—and has nothing to do with a concern for women. AB 926 in fact would have serious short-term and long-term health implications for women, especially college-age and low-income women, who may be enticed to put themselves at risk by selling their eggs out of financial need.

A fact sheet by the bill’s author, Assembly member Susan Bonilla, argues that women who provide eggs for research should be “treated equally to all other research subjects.” But these women are not at all like traditional research subjects in clinical trials. Their reactions to experimental drugs or procedures are not under study. Nor are the researchers in this situation investigating the health implications of egg retrieval. Instead, they are seeking raw material—women’s eggs—for their work.

Further, if researchers are paying thousands of dollars for each cycle of egg retrieval, they will likely be tempted to try to obtain as many as possible from each woman, and may consciously or sub-consciously make decisions from an economic position. Unfortunately, the more eggs retrieved in a procedure, the greater the risks to women’s health.

Although many women undergo egg retrieval for their own or other people’s fertility treatment, the procedure involves high doses of powerful hormones, some of them being used off label, and carries risks that are both significant and under-studied. Despite efforts by women’s health advocates, follow-up studies to determine the procedure’s effects on women are inadequate. Attempts to encourage assisted reproduction clinics to take part voluntarily in a registry of women who have undergone egg retrieval have mostly been ignored by the fertility industry. Without that information, women cannot possibly make an informed decision about the safety of providing eggs even for fertility treatment, let alone for research purposes.

AB 926 claims to be motivated by concerns for women’s equity and for advancing responsible medical research. Those are worthy goals. But, unfortunately, this bill undermines both.

Current status of the bill: AB 926 was passed by the Assembly Health Committee on April 16. It will go next either to the Appropriations Committee or straight to the Assembly floor. If approved by the Assembly, it will go to the Senate, where it will be voted on again. 

More information:
•    Letter to the members of the California State Assembly in opposition to AB926. Organizational signatories are Center for Genetics and Society, Alliance for Humane Biotechnology, Our Bodies Ourselves, Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research, National Women’s Health Network, Council for Responsible Genetics, ETC Group, Movement Generation: Justice and Ecology Project, International Center for Technology Assessment, and We are Egg Donors: The world’s first self-advocacy group for egg donors. Individual signatories include medical doctors and legal scholars.
•    “Which Comes First: The Woman or Her Eggs?,” Huffington Post, April 17, 2013
•    “Should researchers pay for women's eggs?,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 4, 2013

What you can do: Write or call your California Assembly Members and Senators to oppose the bill. For more information, contact: dtober[AT]geneticsandsociety[DOT]org

Previously on Biopolitical Times: