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Policy Developments on Women's Eggs

Genetic Crossroads
March 29th, 2006

US Congress Holds Hearings on Eggs for Research

The House of Representatives Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Drug Policy held a hearing on March 7 entitled "Human Cloning and Embryonic Stem Cell Research after Seoul: Examining exploitation, fraud and ethical problems in the research." The hearing, called by the Republican majority of the committee, included testimony by two pro-choice women's health advocates who voiced ethical and health concerns about women being asked to provide eggs for somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

Judy Norsigian, Executive Director of Our Bodies Ourselves, highlighted the health risks posed by multiple egg extraction and the lack of information on long-term consequences, the possibility for coercion and exploitation of women for their eggs, and the obstacles research patents would create. She raised questions about whether SCNT should be conducted given current conditions, but stated that specific policies need to be instituted if SCNT proceeds.

Diane Beeson, medical sociologist at California State University East Bay, stated that true informed consent is not possible due to the unknown health risks facing women who undergo egg extraction, and she asserted that regulatory structures would not be sufficient to protect women's health because of rampant conflict of interest among stem cell researchers. Due to these concerns, she called for a moratorium on SCNT.

Eggs in the States

Two states are considering legislation that addresses the retrieval of women's eggs for fertility purposes or for the use of cloning techniques to derive embryonic stem cells.

In California, Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) has introduced SB 1260, a bill to ensure that women who provide eggs for research are not put unnecessarily at risk. Sen. Ortiz is a long-term advocate of embryonic stem cell research who supported California's stem cell initiative, but shortly after its passage introduced legislation to remedy its defects. Last year, she authored a bill on eggs similar to SB 1260 that was passed by large majorities in both the Senate and Assembly, but was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In Arizona, the issue of women's eggs has been taken up by Republican opponents of abortion rights, who seem to be adopting the language of women's health in the service of their opposition to embryo research. The Arizona House of Representatives has passed two measures that would ban payment for eggs and require that women be informed of health risks prior to undergoing the egg extraction procedure. A woman selling her eggs, or a physician buying them, could be imprisoned for up to a year and fined up to $150,000. The Arizona Senate is set to vote on the measures this month.

The author of the bill, Rep. Bob Stump (R-Peoria), said the bill was intended to protect women from a risky procedure that exploits poor women. Rep. Linda Lopez (D-Tucson) offered an amendment that would have criminalized the sale of sperm with the same penalties as selling human eggs, which was defeated. "There is a gender equity issue here," Lopez said. "This bill is an attack on women."

The political alignment in Arizona highlights the need for those of us who advocate for women's health and reproductive rights, and also support responsible stem cell research and fertility treatment, to shape policies addressing the risks of egg extraction to women's health and the potential for exploitation that egg extraction entails.


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