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New York to Pay Women Who Give Eggs for Stem Cell Research

Donors must undergo weeks of hormone injections to stimulate their ovaries to produce eggs and then a painful procedure to extract the eggs. The procedure can in rare cases cause a dangerous overstimulation of the ovaries, and there are concerns about the possible long-term risks of hormonal stimulation.

But proponents of reimbursing women have argued that fertility clinics routinely pay women thousands of dollars to donate eggs to help infertile women have children.

In making its decision on June 11, the New York board argued that there was no reason that stem cell researchers should be precluded from offering women equivalent sums, although they stressed that researchers should follow the same guidelines as fertility clinics: Anything over $5,000 must be justified, and anything over $10,000 would be excessive.

"We could not distinguish ethically between the payment for in vitro fertilization, which is very well precedented, and the compensation for donation for research," Hohn said.

Ronald M. Green, a Dartmouth College bioethicist, agreed. "It is discriminatory against women to ban them from receiving payment," he said. "We pay for participation in research that has risks associated with it for other procedures. So why not this? The idea that women cannot make that decision on their own strikes me as sexist."

Ethical Concerns

But Moreno, at the University of Pennsylvania, questioned whether enough effort had been made to persuade women to donate eggs without compensation. "I wonder if all the expertise that could be brought to be bear on this problem of getting unreimbursed donation have been explored," he said.

Moreno and others also questioned equating egg donation for research with donation to help infertile women.

"People recognize that eggs can make a baby. That's a very concrete good for society. But you can't be sure any biological material you collect for research will be part of a medical breakthrough. That's the goal, but you can't be sure," Moreno said.

Moreover, critics worry that the move could lead to the exploitation of women, especially poor women, who tend not to be in demand for infertility donation.

"With the economy the way it is, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that when a woman is looking at receiving up to $10,000 to sign up for research project, that's an undue inducement," said Thomas Berg, a Catholic priest who directs the Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person and serves on the Empire State Stem Cell Board's ethics committee. He opposed the decision. "I think it manipulates women. I think it creates a trafficking in human body parts."

Others agreed, calling it an unnerving precedent. "Whenever society starts to pay for relationships that are traditionally done with altruism and generosity within families, it raises the issue of whether there is anything that is not for sale," said Laurie Zoloth, a Northwestern University bioethicist.

But supporters disputed such arguments. "Women are perfectly capable in our society in deciding to get plastic surgery, Botox, donate a kidney. I find it patronizing beyond belief. We compensate people in clinical trails for time and burden all the time," Solomon said.

Although some argued that therapeutic cloning is no longer necessary because of the development of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) -- adult cells converted into the equivalent of embryonic ones -- others said that remains far from clear.

"IPS technology still to date has not produced cells that have all the properties of embryonic stem cells," said Melton at Harvard. "I believe those cells will be as good as embryonic stem cells, but we're not there yet."

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