Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Wages of Eggs

Cash and human eggs – some folks simply do not want to see them linked together, only reluctantly recognizing that women who donate eggs should be reimbursed for their expenses.

The California stem cell agency recently decided to permit reimbursement for lost wages, a position that troubles California state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, chair of the Senate Health Committee and author of legislation that would regulate egg donations involving non-CIRM funded research.

She cites ethical and fairness issues, among other problems, in implementing a policy of reimbursement for lost wages.

We asked Ortiz' office, via email, for an elaboration on her position, including examples of how reimbursement would amount to coercion or inducement.

Hallye Jordan, director of communications for Ortiz, said the senator's general concern
"is that it would be difficult to establish a fair system for reimbursement of lost wages, particularly when the pool of subjects may include professional women who would be compensated for high hourly earnings and low-income women who may be compensated at minimum wage.

"For a higher income, professional subject, her employer may be able to accommodate her lost time if she is paid by salary. In that case, a credible argument could be made that payment for lost wages that isn't necessary could constitute a monetary reward that goes beyond the 'direct' expenses.

"For women who don't work, or are paid on a seasonal, informal basis, a lost wages policy won't benefit them, anyway. That suggests others steps may be needed to increase diversity among egg donors."
We pursued the question a bit further with Jordan, while noting that the whole question is a bit murky. Here is our subsequent question and Jordan's response.

California Stem Cell Report:
How could a $40,000-a-year woman afford to take off any substantial amount of time if she loses pay? Or even a $70,000-a-year person? Most households in that range do not have the economic slack to accommodate big losses in wages. And workers in that range are not likely to be excused with pay by the employers in order to make egg donations. As for non-working women and seasonal workers, that could be even tougher. A woman who does not work outside of the home makes a genuine, measurable economic contribution to a household. If she is away for any length of time, presumably somebody would have to be paid to perform her tasks.

As for the seasonal workers or informal workers, what "other steps" might be taken? If successful diversity efforts are to be made, something has to be done to recognize the economic situation of persons in minority groups.

"Good points, all. But I don't see how CIRM could pay for lost wages to awoman who has no income. Would they then reimburse her for child care,cooking, cleaning, if she hires someone to take her place in the home? That opens up that whole arena of non-direct expenses, which Prop. 71 prohibits, and (CIRM chairman Robert) Klein said, at the Aug. 30 meeting, includes lost wages. So, all I can say is 'tis a sticky situation."
As Jordan indicates, the final word has not yet been written on this matter. Ortiz' legislation is in its early stages and subject to considerable modification. CIRM itself indicated when it adopted its regulations that it was open to changes. Whether it will go so far as to change the wage reimbursement provision is unclear, but probably unlikely.

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