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Brown Vetoes Bill Allowing Women to Sell Eggs for Research

[Quotes CGS's Diane Tober]

by Alex MatthewsCapitol Weekly
August 14th, 2013

research on egg cells

Gov. Brown vetoed controversial legislation that will allow egg donors to be compensated for oocytes, egg cells, provided for research purposes.

“Not everything in life is for sale nor should it be,” Brown said Tuesday evening in his veto statement. “In medical  procedures of this kind, genuinely informed consent is difficult because the long-term risks are not adequately known. Putting thousands of dollars on the table only compounds the problem.”

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, would have lifted restrictions that were put in place through 2006 legislation to protect egg donors from potential exploitation in the wake of Prop. 71, which provided $3 billion to establish a stem cell agency in California.

But Brown’s veto and developments against a similar proposal on the California Instituted for Regenerative Medicine’s (CIRM) governing board mean that California researchers will not have financial compensation as a means to recruit egg donors.

“Women can be paid to participate in every other type of research—that is standard customary practice—but reproductive research was kind of singled out,” Alice Crisci, a supporter of the bill told Capitol Weekly last month.

The veto came as something of a shock to the industry groups backing the bill, including its sponsor the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

Meanwhile, Brown’s veto places him in the midst of the unusual coalition that developed in opposition to the bill. Throughout the debate, an alliance emerged between socially conservative groups opposed to stem cell research and pro-choice groups voicing concerns over the potential dangers of oocyte retrieval.

“This shift in this policy I think is really driving national policy in a direction that’s really going to severely impact young women’s health,” said Diane Tober of the bill’s passage in early July. Tober is the executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a pro-choice organization in Berkeley, and co-wrote a July column opposing the bill with Berkeley anthropology Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes in the Sacramento Bee.

"The bill would only have applied to research that is not funded through CIRM. There was a prohibition written into the original 2004 initiative banning compensation."

CIRM planned to consider a proposal to loosen those restrictions at its board meeting on July 25, but the board’s standards working group decided more discussion was needed, according to Dave Jensen’s blog the California Stem Cell Report, which follows CIRM.

Although California is one of only three states to have such a ban, alongside Massachusetts and South Dakota, the prominence of the state’s place in the world of stem cell research could make Brown’s decision a precedent in this area. The issue is still ripe for debate, however, with New York, another state leading the way in research, as the only state that explicitly permits such compensation.

“I do think a veto supported with a strong statement might make people in research-friendly states like Massachusetts who were thinking about doing this less likely to change,” said Hank Greely today prior to the veto. Greely is a Stanford law professor who specializes in the ethical issues surrounding this type of technology and also serves as chair of California’s Human Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee

The issue evoked a number of complex questions regarding the nature of research subjects, the commodification of human tissue, and the notion of personhood. Brown articulated those in his veto:

 “The questions raised here are not simple; they touch matters that are both personal and philosophical.”

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