Debate arises over paying for eggs for research

A California bill would ban big payouts to women donating eggs for stem cell studies. The Arizona governor vetoed a similar bill there.

By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted June 26, 2006

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The loudest objections to human embryonic stem cell research have come from those concerned about the destruction of embryos, but now some are objecting to paying women who donate eggs for research.

A bill that passed the California Senate, and at press time was pending in its Assembly, would prohibit stem cell researchers from compensating egg donors for anything more than direct costs, such as taxi rides to and from the clinic. The bill also would define those donors as research subjects under state law, entitling them to unbiased medical advice on the risks of donating eggs.

It's unknown exactly how much those who donate eggs to stem cell research are paid. But fertility clinics usually pay egg donors about $3,500 to $5,000, though some clinics have reportedly paid as much as $35,000 to ideal donors.

"We are creating the potential for women who are more economically vulnerable to take the risks that egg extraction entails because they need the money," said Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, associate executive director of the Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Genetics and Society. She said she supports stem cell research but worries that scientists, in their rush to discover new therapies, may take advantage of egg donors.

William Gibbons, MD, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, said it's reasonable to compensate women who take up to two weeks of their time to donate eggs. "If it's OK to compensate someone who donates eggs to create a pregnancy, why should we not compensate someone for the lost time in donating to create stem cells?" he said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, last year vetoed a measure similar to the one now under consideration when it was packaged with other, unrelated legislation to which he objected.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, in April vetoed a similar bill in her state because it represented "an unwarranted intrusion" into women's medical decisions, she said.

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute announced this month that it would proceed with privately funded therapeutic research cloning but would not compensate egg donors.

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