This is a guest post by H. Rex Greene, M.D. Dr. Greene is board certified in Internal Medicine, Hematology, Oncology, and Hospice-Palliative Medicine
Maggie’s Story is another cautionary tale of the scientific and ethical gray zone of “assisted reproduction.” In her early twenties, she made ten egg “donations” and received minimal compensation. At age thirty-two she presented with stage IV breast cancer. Did she understand the risks of egg donation? As a healthy, normal volunteer it’s unclear if ANY risks are acceptable, but per her description she wasn’t adequately informed of risks. Hence, she did not give informed consent for multiple procedures that may have led to cancer. Breast, ovarian, and colon cancer have been reported in egg donors. This is a bigger issue than a mercenary clinic violating informed consent to support its business model, an obvious conflict of interest.
Who stood up for her? Who was her ombudsman? Maggie’s case illustrates mercenary manipulation of a kind-hearted, generous young woman, who received a pittance in compensation for a very valuable commodity, her eggs. She was bombarded with multiple requests beyond the established safe limits of six donations because she was a “great donor.” The language was deceptive, great for whom? She likely made hundreds of thousands of dollars for infertility clinics. Her altruism was abused in service of an industry intent on profiting from her donated tissues and not sharing the rewards.
They even exploited ethical prohibitions against “selling” eggs, which is illegal in some other countries. The donor (Maggie) can’t profit; the recipient (the clinic) can be handsomely rewarded. In fact, human tissues are the property of the donor, who is entitled to determine how they are used and receive downstream financial benefits. If society doesn’t want egg farming it’s not a question of how much women get paid for their eggs; the practice must be banned as it inevitably leads to exploitation as in Maggie’s case. She takes the risks. The clinic collects the money.
As Maggie tragically demonstrates, with a relatively new technology the long-term risks are unknown. Why should a healthy, normal individual incur any risk of developing cancer? During the procedure young women are bombarded with hormones to provoke multiple ovulations. Hormone exposures correlate with a number of cancers and the amount of stimulation far exceeds the normal menstrual cycle. In addition, there are other short-term risks, hyper-stimulation syndrome, ovarian rupture, torsion, shock, hypotension and potentially death. But long term it’s reasonable to conclude that immense hormonal stimulation can trigger cancer. Rather than permit these abuses to continue the practice should be banned and other aspects of the infertility industry tightly controlled.
Watch Maggie’s Story at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/maggie
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