March 5, 2024

Bans on egg-selling demeans women, argues Australian bioethicist

Loane Skene now takes feminist line

Four years after her committee advised the Australian government to ban a market for women’s eggs for human embryonic stem cell research, Melbourne University Professor Loane Skene has apparently changed her mind. Law professor and bioethicst Skene headed a committee appointed by the Australian government to review stem cell policy back in 2005. (She was originally the deputy chair, but the chair, John Lockhart, died shortly after the committee’s report was published). The government took up the Lockhart committee’s advice that “payment to donors should not be permitted beyond reimbursement of reasonable expenses”.

Now, however, she has argued strongly in the Sydney Morning Herald that “Prohibiting them from being paid may seem an unwarranted restriction of their autonomy — the hand of the nanny state.” After all, compensation for other dangerous work, like construction or prostitution, is an established principle. Why not donating eggs?

This turnabout was prompted by a statement that startled the Australian stem cell community. The leading Australian champion of hESC research, Alan Trounson, had just conceded that they probably are no longer needed. Trounson, who was headhunted to lead the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, said on Melbourne radio that induced pluripotent stem cells had effectively made hESC cells obsolete. Professor Skene now regards a market for eggs as a woman’s right. With a review of the legislation which has banned the commercialisation of eggs coming up next year, she wants to keep the door wide open for hESC research — just in case it does work. ~ Lockhart Report; SMH, Nov 17

Michael Cook

2 thoughts on “Bans on egg-selling demeans women, argues Australian bioethicist

  1. Part II:
    Now to the autonomy aspect. Osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, impaired vision and the like cause restrictions on one’s autonomy. How does a ban on selling eggs limit a woman’s autonomy? It sounds as though Skene doesn’t want anyone telling her that she can’t do something. That’s a restriction on her autonomy? How so? Life is not a free-for-all. Some things are simply not done and are not negotiable. What’s more, there are countless laws prohibiting all kinds of things. Do all of us feel that our autonomy is restricted as a result? Skene seems to subscribe to the “We want it, therefore it should be our right” school of ethics. This is contemporary bioethics? Her claiming that the ban on selling eggs restricts a woman’s autonomy, a claim that portrays women as victims or potential victims when they are really not (in this case), sounds like a dishonest means of having the ban overturned, as legislators would certainly not want to maintain legislation that restricts a woman’s autonomy. That would be politically incorrect.

  2. Part I:
    If bioethicist Skene has to ask why donating eggs for financial compensation shouldn’t be allowed, then I dare say she is in the wrong profession. She claims that a ban on women being paid for their eggs demeans women and is a restriction on their autonomy. What? Selling potential humans isn’t demeaning? It cheapens all of us. In very general terms, in Skene’s world, humans are something that can be bought and sold, like cars, refrigerators and rubber bands. Eggs are just another thing, objects which, at some level, are usable and expendable. Isn’t prostitution, which she seems to be OK with, demeaning as well? The fact is, in the case of prostitution, one person uses another, even if it is a perfectly legal act between two consulting adults. The female body, like eggs, becomes a commodity that can be bought. So much for the sanctity of life and human dignity. Wasn’t there a time in our history when we bought and sold people? It was called slavery. We haven’t learned anything, even though we probably consider ourselves so enlightened (and liberated) in 2009. Part II to follow.

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