Stem Cell Research
Women's Eggs for Research
Women have largely been invisible in the debate over stem cell research, yet women’s bodies are at the center of some forms of human embryonic stem cell research. One avenue of research uses embryos that were created for fertility purposes, but are no longer needed by the people who created them. Another approach, known as Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) or “research cloning,” depends on a fresh supply of women’s eggs. As the field of stem cell research has evolved, however, the most promising avenue of research is the use of iPS cells – induced pluripotent stem cells – a process that doesn’t use embryos or eggs at all. So why do some researchers still push for women’s eggs?
There has been a lot of controversy over the morality and protection of embryos, but far too little debate about the morality of putting women’s health, their fertility, and sometimes even their lives at risk by asking them to provide the raw material for this research. The demand for thousands of eggs for research purposes could create a global market in human eggs, perhaps targeting women most economically vulnerable. For example, in 2005, a global scandal arose in South Korea over SCNT when scientists in a failed attempt to clone an embryo used thousands of eggs - 2061 from 129 women - many of whom were either coerced into giving their eggs or paid to do so.
The primary concerns with egg extraction for research purposes are the serious and substantial risks to women’s health posed by the practice of multiple egg extraction; “egg donation” is a benevolent term for what is not a benign process. Egg extraction requires giving women drugs that have significant short-term side effects and as yet unknown long term health consequences. In addition, there are serious concerns that low income women and young women will be coerced by financial incentives to undergo surgical egg extraction. The National Academies of Science (NAS) ethical guidelines for embryonic stem cell research state that researchers should never pay women for providing eggs. Yet, the New York stem cell institute (NYStem) has agreed to pay women up to $10,000 for eggs for research. California has clear laws that prohibit buying women’s eggs, but some researchers are trying to change the law. PCARR is working to ensure that strict regulations are adopted to prevent the development of a market in eggs.