A study published today in Nature asserts that a new kind of research cloning justifies asking young women to undergo invasive egg extraction procedures, and argues that paying women thousands of dollars for their eggs will not induce them to downplay or even ignore the risks involved. Simultaneous publications in Cell Stem Cell press the case for paying women for eggs for research, a practice which is legally prohibited in many jurisdictions around the world, including California, and is highly controversial.
Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, Associate Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society, says:
“This new form of research cloning, like the old one, still represents a highly speculative approach to stem cell research. We should not put the health of young women at risk, especially to get raw materials for such exploratory investigations.”
In women who undergo egg harvesting for fertility purposes, serious adverse reactions, while not common, occur regularly. A few deaths have been reported. It is widely acknowledged that follow-up studies have been inadequate. Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, notes that:
“There is a critical need for much better safety data—even in the context of fertility treatment where the use of young women’s eggs often results in babies for women utilizing assisted reproductive technologies. Women need adequate information about the long-term risks of multiple egg extraction techniques, including the risks of drugs that suppress ovarian function before hyper-stimulation of the ovaries. Without such data, informed choice is not really possible, whether the eggs are sought for research or reproductive purposes.”
The authors of the Nature report note that one of the women from whom they obtained eggs for their work produced 26 eggs. Some fertility doctors warn that no more than 10–15 eggs should be extracted from a woman's ovaries in a single cycle, because “when the egg number exceeds 20, the risk of OHSS [ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome] becomes high.”[i]
The authors claim to have followed the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), but they did not. For example, they offered a sum of money significantly higher than the ASRM guidelines allow. Nor did they follow the recommendations of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) that “the treating physician or infertility clinician should not also be the investigator who is proposing to perform research on the donated materials.”
Comments Susan Fogel, co-director of the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research:
“Concerns about paying women for eggs for research are widespread. In California, home to very robust stem cell research efforts, payment is prohibited both by CIRM's founding legislation and by independent legislation. Payment for eggs is also illegal in many countries including Canada, Britain, France, Australia, Belgium, Italy and China.”
The authors speculate that with enough eggs, they might be able to produce genome-specific stem cells. However, they offer no discussion of any exploratory research in animal models. For example, what have been the findings, if any, of animal research seeking to identify the oocyte nuclear factor that they hypothesize?
“We cannot now justify the solicitation of young women to provide eggs for this kind of speculative research,” says Diane Beeson of the Alliance for Humane Biotechnology.
The Center for Genetics and Society is a non-profit public affairs and policy advocacy organization working to encourage responsible uses and effective societal governance of human genetic and reproductive biotechnologies. Contact Marcy Darnovsky, 510-625-0819 ext 305.
The Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research (PCARR) is a coalition of reproductive rights and justice advocates, bioethicists, academics and community leaders working to promote democratic accountability, safety and social justice in biomedical research from a women's rights perspective. Contact Susan Fogel, 818-785-7220.
Our Bodies Ourselves is a women’s health education and advocacy organization known for the landmark book
Our Bodies, Ourselves. Contact Judy Norsigian, 617-245-0200 ext 11.
The Alliance for Humane Biotechnology is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising public awareness about the social implications of emerging biotechnologies. Contact Diane Beeson, 510-917-0474.
[i] Dr Arri Coomarasamy, Press Release from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), May 2011