Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Biopolitical Times: CIRM Eyeing Ways to Pay Women for Eggs

The Biopolitical Times is reporting that CIRM President Alan Trounson dropped a "bombshell" recently, declaring that "he wanted to open the door to paying women for their eggs for CIRM-funded research, a clear end-run around California law."


On Monday, Susan Fogel of Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research, who is of the few who follow California stem cell matters closely, reported on the Feb. 28 meeting of the CIRM Standards Working Group. She said,
"Alan Trounson stepped up to the podium, and certainly surprised nearly everyone in the room with a proposal that the SWG support paying women for their eggs by offering them compensation in the way of discounts on their fertility treatments - 'egg-sharing' - if they agree to give up some of their eggs before they have achieved their own reproductive success. Never mind that Proposition 71 itself prohibits compensation for egg providers in CIRM funded research; the CIRM regulations, adopted after a deliberative and public process, prohibit compensation; California statute passed and signed into law in 2006 (SB 1260) prohibits compensation in non-CIRM funded research, and the National Academies guidelines prohibit compensation. The only permissible payment is for reimbursement of incurred expenses. Trounson made several assertions: (1) researchers cannot use spare embryos (this is incorrect - there is no California law that prevents people from donating embryos to research), (2) it is highly unlikely that women would give extra eggs when they go through fertility treatments (no evidence here), and (3) it is extremely difficult in California to get human eggs (others pointed out that there is no such evidence; however, SWG member Kevin Eggan stated that he hasn't been able to recruit egg donors in Massachusetts)."
We asked CIRM for comment on Fogel's article. Don Gibbons, chief communications officer, said, "her piece is largely accurate, just make clear this is about DISCUSSING the topic, NOT PLANS TO CHANGE POLICY.(his capitals)" Following that response, we asked him specifically about whether CIRM believed the statement that Trounson "wanted to open the door" to compensation was "largely accurate." Gibbons responded,
"No, he wanted to open a discussion on the options."
Fogel's item also said,
"It soon became clear that at least one person in the room knew this was coming. (CIRM Chairman Robert) Klein and Trounson had clearly been conspiring on turning California law on its head. Klein jumped in to make the argument that since it is permissible to reimburse women for medical care they might need for health consequences of providing eggs, he had a legal opinion from James Harrison(outside counsel to CIRM), of the Remcho firm, with a twisted definition of 'medical' to include IVF treatment, and arguing that paying women for a portion of their IVF would be 'reimbursement' not 'compensation.'"
The Biopolitical Times article is likely to raise a something of a stir, perhaps as early as Wednesday when the Oversight Committee meets in Sacramento and makes the rounds in the Capitol to see legislators. The piece prompted an email to us from one knowledgeable and longtime CIRM observer, who said,
"Once again, the advice of Klein leads another soul over the precipice."
The reference was apparently to advice that Klein, who is an attorney and claims credit for writing Prop. 71, gave to a CIRM director last year. He told the man to lobby CIRM staff on behalf of a grant to his own institution, a move that currently is under investigation by state officials as a violation of state conflict-of-interest rules.

As for the current CIRM rules on donor expenses, they were carefully crafted following months of hearings and approved in 2006 with virtually no dissent by CIRM directors.

Obviously we have two different perceptions of what occurred at the Feb. 28 meeting, which was not covered by any media. Perhaps it will become clearer when the transcript is posted, which should happen in the next week or so.

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