Update: California Bill Would Overturn Protections for Women Providing Eggs for Research

Posted by Diane Tober June 13, 2013
Biopolitical Times

A bill that would overturn protections for women undergoing egg harvesting for research is making its way through the California legislature, and was unfortunately passed yesterday by the Senate Health Committee. If AB 926 is approved by the full Senate and then signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, researchers would be permitted to pay women upwards of $5,000 for their eggs. It would overturn a 2006 law that was passed nearly unanimously by both the Assembly and Senate.

Supporters of AB 926, sponsored by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and authored by Assembly member Susan Bonilla, argued that California’s current law, which limits payments to reimbursement for expenses, constrains researchers from acquiring the eggs they need; that loosening the payment policy could help women with cancer and promote other scientific advances; and that the bill promotes “equity” for women because it treats them like other research subjects.

Testimony opposing the bill was offered by CGS Associate Executive Director Diane Tober; Dr. Jennifer Schneider, whose daughter, a former egg donor, died of colon cancer; and Dr. Sindy Wei, a former egg donor who almost bled to death when a prominent infertility specialist retrieved over 60 eggs from her ovaries and in the process nicked an artery. Their main points included the health risks of the drugs and procedures used in egg retrieval, which are significant but under-studied; the impossibility of getting truly informed consent from women because research is so inadequate; and the pressing need for an egg donor registry that would permit further research and tracking donors to ensure the procedures are safe.

They also pointed out that egg providers are actually in a very different position than research subjects, whose reactions to a drug or procedure being studies are the object of study.  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.

Jennifer Schneider’s testimony included the story of her deceased daughter, and the associations her subsequent investigations uncovered between egg retrieval and colon cancer. Sindy Wei recounted her injuries during egg retrieval and the callous treatment she received from the infertility specialist responsible for it. She also described the dramatically different way she was treated when she was an egg donor (“just a vendor”) versus the care she received when, years later, she was unable to conceive naturally and sought infertility treatment.  

Distressingly, many of the senators present at the hearing paid little attention to these accounts, talking among themselves while opponents of the bill were testifying. Yet they gave supporters of the bill their full attention.

You can view the Senate Health Committee hearing here (full hearing), and learn more from this fact sheet.

See also testimony to the Senate Health Committee by CGS Associate Executive Director Diane Tober, Sindy Wei, MD and former egg donor, and Jennifer Schneider, MD.

What can you do? Write a letter to your Senator and to Governor Jerry Brown to oppose AB926, and please check back for information about a petition.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: