Friday, August 02, 2013

Pay-for-Eggs Legislation Now Before California Gov. Jerry Brown

California's pay-for-eggs bill is now officially on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, awaiting his signature or veto.

The measure, AB926 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was sent to the governor at 4:45 p.m. PDT yesterday. On July 1, it easily won legislative approval and has been held in legislative processing since then. The governor has 12 days to act on the measure or it becomes law without his signature.

The legislation would remove the state ban on payment to women for their eggs for scientific purposes. Currently women who provide their eggs for fertility purposes can be compensated. Fees run as high as $50,000 in some cases, depending on the characteristics of the woman providing the eggs, but generally are in the $10,000 range or less. The bill does not affect the ban on the use of funds from the California stem cell agency to compensate egg providers.

Bonilla's bill is sponsored by the $5 billion-a-year fertility industry, which is backing it on motherhood and sexual equity grounds. Supporters say women should receive payment for their eggs just as men are paid for their sperm. They also argue that more eggs are needed for research into fertility problems. In the stem cell field, scientists have also said it is nearly impossible to find women who will provide eggs unless they are paid.

Opponents contend that the process of stimulating production of eggs can be risky or dangerous. They say that the longterm effects of the process have not been studied well. They also argue that it will lead to exploitation of low income and minority women to produce eggs that then can become a profitable commodity for the largely unregulated fertility industry. (For more informationon on the bill, see here, here and here.)

In one op-ed piece in The Sacramento Bee, opponents cited the late philosopher Ivan Illich, who was much admired by Jerry Brown, who considered him a friend. Illich was quoted as warning "against the processes of medical industries which 'create new needs and control their satisfaction and turn human beings and their creativity into objects.'"

The industry group says, however, that Brown is committed to signing the bill.

The measure surfaced in the news yesterday in an article on the Forbes magazine website by Jon Entine. He wrote,
“Should activist groups, working through legislators, exercise their control over women’s reproduction? Do we really 'own' our own bodies? Or does that tenet only hold when nanny groups say it’s okay?”
(One of the authors of The Sacramento Bee op-ed piece criticized in the Forbes article later filed a comment concerning their position.)

The egg legislation may have implications for regulation of stem cell research by the state Department of Public Health(again not involving the California stem cell agency). Last month the California Stem Cell Report asked Hank Greely, a Stanford law professor and chair of the state department's Human Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee, about the measure. He replied,
“Well, if (when?) AB 926 is signed, I think our committee should meet to consider what recommendations we would make to the (the department) as a result of the bill.  Those recommendations could lead, if the committee and the department agree, to a revision of the state guidelines.  As a matter of law, a statute, particularly a subsequent statute, trumps a guideline where they are in conflict, but basically I expect we'll see what the committee thinks and what the department decides.  I don't wish to guess at the results of either process.”
Another question that was not discussed publicly during the debate on the legislation deals with whether human eggs provided with compensation would be subject to state sales tax at any stage in the process. A check of the tax code, however, makes it clear that eggs are tax free. The code states that “any human body parts held in a bank for medical purposes, shall be exempt from taxation for any purpose." The definition of “bank” includes research facilities, and "medical purposes" includes research.
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