Human Cloning, Embryonic Stem Cell Research Exploits Women

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 11, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Human Cloning, Embryonic Stem Cell Research Exploits Women Email this article
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by Jill Stanek
January 11, 2006 Note: Jill Stanek fought to stop "live birth abortions" after witnessing one as an RN at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Her speaking out led to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act legislation, signed by President Bush, that would ensure that proper medical care be given to unborn children who survive botched abortion attempts.

Junior scientist Park Eul-soon suffered the most personally devastating blunder of her career when in 2003 she accidentally spilled a dish of human eggs while conducting experiments in the South Korean lab of then-clone king Hwang Woo-suk.

For that mishap, Hwang coerced Park, a subordinate Ph.D. student in her mid-20s, to replace the lost eggs with her own. After first saying no, Park relented for fear Hwang would otherwise exclude her from academic recognition for her work.

Afterward, according to Korean MBC TV, Park morbidly "went back to Hwang’s laboratory and conducted the cloning experiment on the eggs that she herself had contributed that morning."

Park wrote in an e-mail to MBC, "I hope I can forgive myself for not being able to stand up to the professor."

The unforgivable one is Hwang. Not only is he now accused of falsifying his cloning feats and thereby "perpetrat[ing] the greatest scientific fraud, not just of 2005, but of the admittedly still young 21st century," according to MSNBC columnist Arthur Caplan, he is also accused of exploiting women on just as grand a scale to obtain eggs for his cloning experiments.

The fear that cloning would exploit women was the major reason the United Nations called for its ban last year. The U.N. was concerned that cloning would create an international market for eggs and egg donors that would exploit disadvantaged women in particular. (The Republic of Korea voted against the declaration.)

Hwang’s alleged ethical violations include paying for eggs, lying about the number of eggs used in his experiments, and neglecting to provide informed consent to women regarding the potential side effects of egg procurement.

But complicit with Hwang is every cloning and embryonic stem-cell researcher around the world who perched him on the very high pedestal from which he toppled.

Largely silent about the ethical and tangible dilemmas of garnering human eggs for experimentation, the ESCR-cloning community breathed a collective sigh of relief and lauded Hwang when they thought he had solved their problem.

It was only after Hwang published a supposed breakthrough on minimizing the number of eggs needed to create clones that they aired their concerns.

The journal Science published two papers by Hwang in 2004 and 2005, both as cover stories. The first claimed to use "only" 242 eggs to create the first ever cloned embryonic stem-cell line (listing Park as a co-author), and the second claimed to use "only" 273 eggs to create 11 patient-specific stem-cell lines.

Investigators have now determined Hwang actually used between 1,600 and 2,000 eggs from 86 women for those experiments. Some of those women were paid, at least two were allegedly coerced subordinates, and "[a]bout 20 percent… experienced side effects from surgical procedures to extract eggs," reported People’s Online Daily of an MBC report.

What side effects?

Retrieving human eggs is far more complicated than retrieving human sperm. The process can take months. Even Columbia University’s pro-abortion website Go ask Alice admits it is "complicated, and can be frightening, uncomfortable, and even painful."

Egg donors are given injections of medications and hormones for two to five weeks to stimulate multiple eggs to mature, accompanied by blood tests to check hormone levels.

When eggs are ready for harvesting, the woman is put under general anesthesia, and the physician guides a needle into the ovary to remove eggs, one at a time, usually 10 or less. This normally takes up to one hour.

Side effects range from hemorrhaging after surgery to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome from the hormone injections, up to two weeks after egg release.

In the latter event, the ovaries enlarge and can burst – worst case. Symptoms of OHSS vary from bloating, weight gain, and diarrhea to serious complications involving blood clots, fluid retention, chest pain, low blood pressure and inability to urinate.

Long-term consequences of the egg procurement procedure are unknown.

The upside of "Hwanggate," as it’s now known, is that it, along with the ever-worsening California stem-cell debacle, has helped chill all the hype. Last week, nervous New Jersey legislators shelved their plan to subsidize embryonic stem-cell and cloning experimentation. Hopefully, that’s just the beginning.

Meanwhile, where are the feminists in all this, the supposed defender of women’s rights?

Always follow the money. Feminists receive their sustenance from abortion, and the potential to extract a profit from the eggs of aborted female fetuses is great. That is why feminists are silent. They are pro-choice all right. They never fail to choose money over women.