Feminists Warn Against Exploiting Women for Eggs in Biotech

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on December 4, 2011

By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC

Pro choice and pro life women have come together in coalition to protect women from being exploited for their eggs by Big Biotech. Reason? Women would take all the risks and the companies could make all the money but for the small payments to women to undergo the unnecessary extration procedure.

And now, three very prominent feminists have written a letter to Nature warning of the risk. They begin by pointing out that an earlier cloning-type experiment — which I discussed here — used eggs purchased and extracted in excess of IVF recommended amounts. The letter is entitled, ”Control the Bonanza for Research Eggs,” (Nature, 1 December 2011, Vol. 480, 39 — no link):

The demand for women’s eggs for research could soar alarmingly following news of a cloning technique that uses human, oocytes to reprogram somatic cells to a state of pluripotency (S. Noggle, et al. Nature 478, 70–75; 2011). The mean number of eggs given by each woman during the study was 16.9, with one donating 26 eggs. This is more than many fertility doctors would consider optimal and increases the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. The researchers do not say that they halted hormone treatment in cases of over-response, although they did stop it in under-responsive women.

Noggle rightly anticipated concerns that payment for eggs could encourage financially disadvantaged women to take risks they might otherwise avoid. But US$8,000, the amount paid by Noggle and colleagues, would be a temptation even to the well-off in these difficult economic times. Some argue that women should evaluate for themselves the risks and benefits of providing eggs for research. But informed consent depends on provision of accurate information. Even after years of egg harvesting for fertility treatment, the risks to women — especially from some of the drugs and hormones used — remain undercharacterized and poorly assessed, with inadequate follow-up and data collection.

– Marcy Darnovsky, Center for Genetics and Society, Berkeley, California, USA.
– Susan Berke Fogel, Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research, Van Nuys, California, USA.
– Judy Norsigian, Our Bodies Ourselves, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Preach it, sisters! With human cloning having the potential for great fame for the first scientist to successfully clone a human embryo and develop it to at least the blastocyst stage — the motive for Hwang Woo-suk’s fraud, who recall, exploited his female colleagues for their eggs — not to mention the potential financial bounty, the temptation to view women as a means to a greater end is clear and present.

I support outlawing the sale of human eggs for any purpose — internationally — but certainly, for biotechnology. No woman should be enticed to put her health at risk so others may reach the stratosphere of scientific fame and fortune.

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