British Groups Upset at Decision to Pay Women for Eggs for Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 28, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Groups Upset at Decision to Pay Women for Eggs for Stem Cell Research Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 28, 2006

London, England ( — British groups are upset at a decision by a governmental agency that is supposed to be a stem cell research watchdog. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has ruled that a British stem cell research institute can pay women for their eggs for stem cell studies.

The decision prompts concerns for bioethicists who say that paying women for eggs for research opens up a list of problems including coercion and taking advantage of poor women.

HFEA ruled that the North East England Stem Cell Institute can ask women undergoing infertility treatments if they would like to be paid for any extra eggs produced in the process.

But Josephine Quintavalle, of the British Comment on Reproductive Ethics, called the decision "lunacy."

"Vulnerable women will be put under pressure. They are extremely susceptible to coercion," she explained.

Dr. David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, also opposed the HFEA decision saying it "shows its contempt for public opinion and its general bias in favor of anything the IVF industry asks for."

Donna Dickenson, at Birkbeck College, London, who sits on the ethics committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, agreed with the opposition and said "It’s pulling the clinicians in two different ways."

"The primary objective has got to be to treat the individual patient, but if there is also a desire to harvest extra [eggs] … I think there could be two conflicting objectives," she said.

Dickenson said there were risks to donors from the hormonal drugs, and the longer-term risks were not yet known.

HFEA will make the payments to the women and it will essentially consist of a reimbursement for about half of the fertility treatment costs.

The donated eggs will be used to create human embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them for their stem cells for research.

Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has previously said that scientists should not be recruiting women to donate their eggs.

The egg extraction procedure is significantly painful and comes with a number of potential medical complications.

"They could be made sick for what the researchers admit that for many years will simply be a scientific experiment," Doerflinger said.

This is the first time that any British agency has been allowed to pay women for their eggs for research. Previously they were allowed to ask women to simply donate the eggs if they produced 12 or more for the infertility treatments.

HFEA has planned a query to begin in September during which it will consider various views on the issue of paying women for their eggs. However, the governmental agency decided to move forward with the license offer to the stem cell institute ahead of that investigation.