Payment for Stem Cell Eggs Debated

The Associated Press
Saturday, January 20, 2007; 9:03 PM

-- Say you're a woman who wants to have fertility treatment but can't afford the $5,000 to $6,000 cost.

What if you could get it for half-price, by agreeing to donate half the eggs you produce for stem cell research?


British women may get a crack at that deal in a few months, under a plan pursued by Dr. Alison Murdoch of Newcastle University.

This concept, which resembles a strategy sometimes used to get eggs for fertility treatment, is just one of several new efforts to boost the supply of human eggs needed for research. The shortage has triggered an ethical debate on both sides of the Atlantic: Should women be paid for supplying eggs?

Scientists need eggs for a process called therapeutic cloning, which creates stem cells genetically matched to an individual. It may be used someday to create tissue to treat illnesses like diabetes and Parkinson's disease, providing transplant material that's genetically matched to the patient so that it won't be rejected. Therapeutic cloning may also help scientists develop better drug treatments.

The process involves transferring DNA into human eggs and growing them into 5-day-old embryos, from which stem cells are harvested.

It's not clear just how many eggs scientists need for this research. But it is clear that for a woman, donating eggs is a significant undertaking.

By various estimates, a woman can spend 40 to 56 hours in medical offices, being interviewed, counseled and subjected to a surgical procedure, under sedation, that retrieves eggs from her body. Before that procedure, she takes hormone injections daily for more than a week to stimulate egg development.

Women donate thousands of eggs in the United States every year to help other women have babies. They are paid. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine doesn't recommend a figure but says $5,000 or more requires some justification and that $10,000 is too much. (In fact, some ads for eggs offer far more).

The medical group also says it's fine to pay women for producing eggs for stem cell research. But other guidelines and laws on that topic favor just reimbursing women for expenses. That's the word from the law books of California and Massachusetts and a committee of the National Research Council, a congressionally chartered nonprofit organization that advises the federal government.

In fact, the compensation question has split American feminists and advocates for reproductive health and rights, said Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society. One side says offering money beyond reimbursement risks exploiting disadvantaged women by offering undue inducement to participate, while the other side calls that stance paternalistic, she said.

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