Thursday, March 29, 2007

Eggs and Absurd Inconsistencies

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, a Harvard business professor says the "politics of egg donation" have obscured the real issues concerning the market for human oocytes.

Debora Spar discusses the scene nationally and internationally, using the case of woman she calls "Anna Behrens," who Spar says is not a real person. Spar wrote in the March 29 edition of the NEJM:
"The United States, by contrast, maintains the absurd inconsistency illustrated by the case of Anna Behrens: $20,000 for an egg used for reproduction; nothing for the same egg used for stem-cell research. Such a policy would make sense only if we deemed assisted reproduction socially more valuable than research. But this argument is not being made and perhaps could not logically stand, given that the alternative to assisted reproduction would often be adoption. Instead, opponents of egg selling tend to refer to the fears of commodification and the risks to donors — all of which, if valid, apply equally to the reproductive and research uses of eggs.

"What we need, therefore, is a fresh debate on egg donation and a new set of policies. We need to consider the health risks and ways of identifying and mitigating them. We need to ensure that all potential donors are fully informed of these risks and fully protected against them. We need to make clear that the benefits of egg donation, for reproductive or research purposes, are complicated, and that few of these benefits will ever flow directly to the donor. At the moment, though, the politics of egg donation have blinded us to these real issues. We have not thought deeply about what makes sense for science, for women, and for society. Instead, we are only fighting about the price."
Spar, author of "The Baby Business: How Markets are Changing the Future of Birth," does not discuss in her NEJM article the possible growth of a black market for human eggs, which seems certain to arise if eggs have real monetary value and there is a shortage.

As far as California is concerned, Spar reports that researchers using state funds are prohibited from compensating egg donors for anything beyond direct expenses.

The actual language of the CIRM regulations is slightly different. It says that "permissible expenses" are "necessary and reasonable costs directly incurred as a result of donation or participation in research activities. Permissible expenses may include but are not limited to costs associated with travel, housing, child care, medical care, health insurance and actual lost wages."

NEJM has also posted an interview with Spar and Emily Galpern of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland on the subject of egg donations. Sphere: Related Content

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