The Facts: A Bill to Permit Researchers to Pay for Eggs is Bad for Women, Bad for California
Updated August 1, 2013
AB 926, initiated by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and authored by Assembly member Susan Bonilla, seeks to permit payment to women providing eggs for research. ASRM is a fertility industry organization whose members have for decades had a financial interest in expanding the availability of eggs, but that has not responded to repeated calls by women's health groups for research to firmly establish the health consequences of egg retrieval.
The state of California acknowledged the dangers to women’s health of paying for eggs for research by passing SB 1260 in 2006. Authored by then-Senator Deborah Ortiz, an acknowledged champion of women’s health, SB 1260 prohibited paying for eggs for research beyond compensation for direct expenses. It was approved by near-unanimous votes in both the California Senate and Assembly.
AB 926 would repeal this law, and would also be at odds with the similar prohibition included in Proposition 71, which established California’s stem cell research program. AB 926 is problematic for a number of reasons:
- AB 926 states that it promotes “equity for women” as “research subjects.” This language is misleading. Research subjects are recruited for clinical trials to study the effects of a drug or procedure. Providing eggs for research does not resemble a clinical trial; the short-term and long-term effects of the egg-harvesting drugs and procedures on healthy young women are not being studied, collected, reported, or followed. In the case of egg providers, researchers are interested in what are essentially raw materials for research. The impacts on the health of egg providers are not germane to their work. Egg providers are thus quite different from research subjects.
- Supporters of AB926 argue that the bill creates “equity for women,” so that those who provide eggs for research would get compensated at the same rate as women who provide eggs for fertility purposes. The bill does not promote fairness, however. It is primarily about helping researchers compete for eggs to be used in their research. Given that many young women providing eggs for reproductive purposes have experienced serious complications and infertility due to their “work” as egg providers, it would seem prudent to collect adequate safety data before expanding the market for eggs to include eggs for research.
- AB926 supporters contend that existing laws and regulations are adequate to protect women from being unfairly exploited or enticed by compensation. Yet they provide no evidence or analysis to back this assertion. The bill states that “[c] oncerns that women will be exploited if compensated for providing human oocytes for research have not borne out in the states where compensation is allowed.” But in fact there is no published information about the outcomes there. Low-income women may feel particular pressure to risk their health in order to pay living expenses, tuition, etc.
- AB 926 states that “all women undergoing ovarian stimulation and oocyte retrieval have another layer of regulation as all cycles are reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” In fact, fertility clinics report the number of IVF cycles that use third-party eggs and the number of resulting live births to the CDC – but no information about the women who undergo egg retrieval as paid providers, the number of eggs retrieved from them, or the number or severity of adverse reactions they experience.
- Supporters of AB926 assert that research is suffering due to “lack of needed tissues” and that research using women’s eggs will ultimately help women with cancer and help improve infertility treatment. However, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the drugs and procedures used for egg harvesting and retrieval actually increase cancer risks and infertility in previously healthy women. At least 10 scientific studies have found increased cancer rates among women who have undergone ovarian stimulation. While some studies have not found an increase, they typically acknowledge that the period of follow-up is insufficient to rule out the possibility.
- Egg harvesting uses powerful drugs (including some unapproved by the FDA for these purposes) to both suppress and hyper-stimulate a woman’s endocrine system to produce large numbers of mature eggs. The most well documented side effect of egg harvesting is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can cause organ damage, ovarian rupture, and in rare instances death.
- AB926 supporters contend that current laws deny a woman’s “fundamental ability to make informed decisions.” This is not the case. Without sufficient information or studies on the short-term and long-term health risks of egg harvesting and retrieval – including the use of potentially dangerous hormones – it is not possible for women to make an “informed decision.” Before proceeding with a potentially dangerous bill, adequate research needs to be conducted on the risks of egg-harvesting and retrieval.
See also "New information on AB 926," August 1 letter to Governor Brown from Center for Genetics and Society
Previously on Biopolitical Times: