March 3, 2024

Scientists want market in eggs for research

Ban on compensation is crippling, says Nature.
human egg / BBCThroughout the long and acrimonious debate over therapeutic cloning, its opponents have asked “where will the eggs come from?” Eggs are needed to create the clone, but women have to undergo an uncomfortable, sometimes painful and occasionally fatal procedure so that scientists can gather them.

But scientists are handicapped by National Academy of Sciences regulations written in 2005 which bar compensation to prevent exploitation of poor women. Some states, including Massachusetts and California, which are home to some leading stem cell research groups, ban it. Nature reports that bans on payment “are crippling the promising field of ‘therapeutic cloning’ that could produce useful embryonic stem-cell lines for studying various human diseases”.

What about altruistic donation? Harvard University researchers conducted a two-year campaign and spent US$100,000 to inspire women to donate their eggs. The result was less than 10 eggs, and thousands will be needed.

So now American scientists want the sale of eggs for research to be legalised. There is a precedent for this. In the US it is legal for women to sell their eggs to IVF clinics to create embryos. Clinics are paying tens of thousands of dollars for eggs from attractive, intelligent college students.  

In the UK scientists are allowed to obtain eggs from IVF clinics by offering cut-rate fertility treatment in return for donation of some eggs. But the problem with sourcing eggs from IVF clinics is that the women probably have fertility problems. It is now possible to use animal eggs to create human-animal hybrid embyros in the UK. But the scope of these is limited. The upshot of this is almost certain to be a campaign to legalise a market in human eggs. ~ Nature, June 12

One of the most contentious issues in modern
philosophy is “what is a person”? Are all humans persons? Are all persons
human? But for Colorado voters this is not going to be a cob-webbed academic
question, but a box to be ticked in November’s ballot. A local anti-abortion
group has succeeded in placing “the Human Life Amendment” on the ballot
by garnering 103,000 signatures on a petition. The proposed amendment says that
the words "person" or "persons" in the state constitution should
"include any human being from the moment of fertilization." If successful,
it would give embryos the same legal rights and protections to which people are

Somewhat surprisingly, the measure is not supported
by larger organisations opposed to abortion, National Right to Life and
Focus on the Family. The sponsors of the personhood amendment, Colorado Right
to Life, are at loggerheads with both, seeing them as too soft on abortion. The
other groups regard Colorado RTL as a "rogue and divisive"

"The goal is to restore
legal protection to preborn babies from the moment they are conceived, which is
the only way we’re going to stop abortion," said Leslie Hanks, vice
president of Colorado RTL. Not only abortion, say abortion supporters, but
embryo research and certain means of contraception. "Because this
amendment would define a person in a given way and expand the universe of who
persons are, it expands the reach of laws that deal with persons," said
Bill Araiza, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles.

It is hard to know how successful
the measure will be in November. Even if it fails, it will at least test-drive
the tactic in other states. "This is just the first round," says
Robert Muise, a lawyer with the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, public
interest firm that has drafted language for similar efforts in Oregon, Montana
and Georgia. ~ Washington
Post, July 13