California Bill Exploits Women, Pays for Their Eggs for Research

Bioethics   Rebecca Taylor   May 14, 2013   |   7:11PM    Sacramento, CA

A new bill introduced into the California legislature would lift the ban on paying women for their eggs

AB 926, the Reproductive Health and Research Bill, says that to encourage reproductive health and research in the state, women need to be compensated for “donating” their eggs, a hot commodity in the embryonic stem cell research and infertility arenas.

To acquire human eggs, a woman has to undergo an invasive procedure. First the woman is injected with drugs that stimulate her ovaries to produce multiple eggs. This is called ovarian hyperstimulation. The woman then undergoes surgery to retrieve the eggs produced. Depending on which drugs are used, as many as 10% of woman will experience ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a serious complication that includes enlargement of the ovaries and can cause permanent infertility and even death. OHSS may also cause blood clotting disorders and kidney damage. Women who have undergone ovarian hyperstimulation may have increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Some egg extractions go horribly wrong. For example, Shavonne, who was asked to donate eggs to make embryos for embryonic stem cells research, told her story to The Center for Bioethics and Culture:

I took a drug called Follistim to super ovulate me. The retrieval went fine, but not too long after that my stomach started to swell, and every time I leaned over I could feel my ovaries “plop.” I went to see the doctor, and he told me I had OHSS…nurse stuck a needle in my stomach, and it was a loud pop I could feel, like a balloon was popped. She stuck a bag on the end of the needle to drain the fluid, and the bag filled with 2 quarts in about 5 minutes. She had to quickly put another bag on and some of the fluid spilled on the floor. She filled the next bag too—in all, 4 quarts were drained out of my stomach…. The staff at the hospital would shake their head at me and took pity on me, because I was an egg donor and they said they saw this a lot…. It took a year and a half to clear up the medical bills. My menstrual cycles are few and far between. I was pregnant in 2008, but I lost the baby. I hope to have children some day, and every time I do have a period, I get really excited because I rarely have them anymore.

So why would California want more women to go through such a process just for research purposes? AB 926 gives a list of research that would benefit from having more human eggs, which includes reducing the high volume of multiple pregnancies in IVF. But there is some very disturbing verbiage in AB 926 including the assertion that research will benefit from the intentional creation of excess embryos:

The best source of available embryos for research comes from embryos created for fertility using a compensated donor, as she is more likely to produce a higher volume of oocytes and excess viable embryos than the infertile woman. Due to the ban on compensation, oocytes and embryos not needed for fertility will be unsuitable for research and will likely be discarded.

In other words, we want more donor eggs, so we can make more embryos, so those “extra” embryos can then be sacrificed on the altar of science. Horrifying.

There is also this sentence which is particularly telling:

The current ban on compensation for women providing human oocytes for research was created due to concerns regarding the high volume of oocytes needed for embryonic stem cell research, but extends to all research.

Guaranteed that the “all research” includes cloning research that requires a very high volume of eggs. But why would researchers still want to pursue therapeutic cloning where a cloned embryo is created and then destroyed for his or her stem cells, when induced pluripotent stem cell technology is already giving us patient-specific embryonic-like stem cells without the eggs or the cloning?

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Most likely the answer is for reproductive cloning, cloning to produce babies. Therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning both use eggs to produce cloned embryos. This bill does say that the goal is to increase the availability of eggs for reproductive research and California is the cloning state where scientists were first able to clone a human embryo and extract stem cells.

AB 926’s sole purpose is to increase the raw materials for some pretty unethical science. Even without reading between the lines, it clearly states the intent is to create more embryos than needed for fertility treatments making the “extras” available for research. All on the backs of women.

California’s Reproductive Health and Research Bill shows us that science views women as banks of harvestable biological material. Researchers know they need pay to get us to fork over our goods. We deserve better.