Friday, June 26, 2009

Money for eggs for stem cell research

While it has long been legal for women to sell eggs to help infertile couples have children, it is most often illegal for researchers to purchase eggs. This has now changed in NY, not without controversy.

Rob Stein has a great story in the Washington Post: New York to Pay Women to Give Eggs for Stem Cell Research. I'm going to quote at length from it below, because the controversy in many ways parallels that about whether or not there should be a market for kidneys.

Both controversies revolve around whether compensation for donors is a repugnant transaction, involving coercion, or exploitation, or the objectification* of people, or the encroachment of markets into areas that should be outside of market influence, or whether these are transactions that willing adults were until now unreasonably prevented from participating in. Quotes follow, emphasis added.

"New York has become the first state to allow taxpayer-funded researchers to pay women for giving their eggs for embryonic stem cell research, a move welcomed by many scientists but condemned by critics who fear it will lead to the exploitation of vulnerable women.
The Empire State Stem Cell Board, which decides how to spend $600 million in state funding for stem cell studies, will allow researchers to compensate women up to $10,000 for the time, discomfort and expenses associated with donating eggs for experiments. "
...
"The little-noted decision two weeks ago puts New York at odds with policies in every other state that provides funding for human embryonic stem cell research and with prevailing guidelines from scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences.
The move was welcomed, however, by proponents of stem cell research, stem cell scientists and some bioethicists, who said it would remove a major obstacle to pursuing some of the most exciting goals of the research -- including producing replacement tissues tailored to individual patients. " ...
"But the decision was questioned by others, including opponents and some proponents of stem cell research.
"In a field that's already the object of a great deal of controversy, the question is, are we at the point where we really need to go that route in order to do the science?" said Jonathan D. Moreno, a professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "I'm not convinced." "
...
""The lack of compensation has meant it's been nearly impossible to get enough eggs," said Douglas A. Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston. "
...
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," Green 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.

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. "
...
"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. "


*On arguments involving objectification and such, see here, starting on p.45

4 comments:

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