Sunday, February 12, 2006

Ortiz Not Satisfied with Egg Expense Rules

California State Sen. Deborah Ortiz has proposed legislation that could overturn plans by the state's stem cell agency to permit egg donors to be reimbursed for lost wages.

Ortiz, chair of the Senate Health Committee, introduced her bill last Thursday, the day before agency was scheduled to consider proposed rules on egg donations. She sent a letter to stem cell Chairman Robert Klein late Thursday that said,

"The amount and difficulty of administering reimbursement for lost wages, and the possibility that such reimbursement may induce women to undergo invasive procedures, merit more attention and consideration before the ICOC acts on this draft provision."

She said that ethical questions exist about whether reimbursement of wages "constitute inducement or coercion for some women."

Ortiz did not send a representative to the Oversight Committee meeting on Friday, nor were her objections discussed in any detail. We may have missed it, but we don't think they were even mentioned. Given the nature of the bureaucratic process, the committee may not have even been aware of them, although there was more mention of cooperating with the legislature than sometimes is heard at Oversight meetings.

Ortiz' bill, SB1260, is a variation of a measure vetoed last year by the governor. SB1260 would ban the sale of human eggs. It would also establish informed consent standards for donors. The bill goes beyond the stem cell agency to regulate all egg donor operations in the state. Ortiz indicated that her bill, which will come up for a hearing sometime this spring, is likely to be altered to include more protections for egg donors. As it now stands, it does not offer as much protection in terms of informed consent procedures for donors as do CIRM regulations.

The sections on egg payments reads:
"No human oocyte or embryo shall be acquired, sold, received, or otherwise transferred for valuable consideration for the purposes of medical research or development of medical therapies. For purposes of this section, 'valuable consideration' does not include reasonable payment for the removal, processing, disposal,preservation, quality control, storage, transplantation, or implantation of oocytes or embryos.

"No payment in excess of the amount of reimbursement of expenses shall be made to any research subject to encourage her to produce human oocytes for the purposes of medical research."

The measure does not specifically mention the "lost wages" issue at this point, but it could easily be added. One could argue that the bill, as it already stands, would ban reimbursement of lost wages.

CIRM's policy requires that only "permissible expenses" can be reimbursed under CIRM-funded research. Those are defined as necessary and reasonable costs directly incurred. They may include, but are not limited to, actual lost wages, travel, housing, child, medical care and health insurance.

Ortiz' letter to Klein said,

"The National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies have recommended that women who undergo egg extraction for research purposes should be reimbursed only for direct expenses incurred as a result of the procedure, as determined by an Institutional Review Board.... This recommendation of an established, credible authority should be carefully considered before opening the door readily to compensation for lost wages in CIRM-funded research, which may set an undue precedent."

Ortiz additionally said that CIRM's policies "should be tightened to more explicitly require eggs procured outside of CIRM-funded research, but used for this research, to meet the guidelines as adopted."

She said that the section "on fairness and diversity in research (should) include the collection of demographic information, including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, language, age, zip code, income bracket, and state that these records need to be made publicly available. This demographic information is important in the continued assessment of who is involved in the research and who may be affected by it."

Bernard Lo, co-chair of the Standards Working Group that developed the ethics policy over months of hearings, on Friday said that CIRM's policies were a starting point and subject to modification as more discussion and evidence are considered. He went out of his way to express public appreciation for input from all parties, including some who have received a more unfriendly reception from others at CIRM in the past.

At the time of the meeting, it was not clear whether he was aware of Ortiz' concerns in her letter from the previous afternoon.

Some might argue that CIRM's status as a separate entity in the California Constitution allows it to chart its own course on "lost wages." That argument might make a fine point for lawyers, but the practical effect of Ortiz's legislation, should it become law as opposed to CIRM's regulations, would seem to nullify the agency's efforts.

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