Friday, August 05, 2016

The Human Egg Business: More Media Coverage of California Cash-for-Eggs Legislation

A renewed legislative effort in California to pay women for handing over their eggs for research is attracting more attention this year, including opposition from a former state senator sometimes called the mother of the state's stem cell agency.

Deborah Ortiz, former chair of the California Senate Health Committee, wrote an op-ed piece published this week in The Sacramento Bee. She noted that the stem cell agency prohibits paying women for their eggs. Ortiz wrote,
"I oppose AB 2531 (the number of the bill) on a number of grounds: First, we have very limited information on the long-term health effects of the egg retrieval process. Second, women who undergo egg retrieval are not research subjects in the traditional sense, as proponents assert. Finally, paying for women’s eggs for research purposes contradicts well-established national recommendations and state policy."
She continued,
"This is not an issue of equity with other research subjects. Women providing eggs for research are not comparable to research subjects in clinical trials. Their role is providing raw materials for pre-clinical research, rather than participating as subjects in medical research. And they are not afforded the safeguards or follow-up of subjects in clinical trials.
"Finally, AB 2531 conflicts with national recommendations and with policies in our state constitution. The 2010 guidelines of the National Academy of Science recommend that no payments beyond reimbursement for expenses be made for donating eggs for research."
Ortiz has been called the mother of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, because of her early role in support of stem cell research and authorship of an initial measure to use bond funding to finance it.

The cash-for-eggs bill also drew attention from Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He said that the measure should not be approved. Hiltzik wrote,
"There is scant research on the long-term health risks of egg retrieval, and nothing in the bill that would encourage more. To paper over that fact, the measure’s advocates have engaged in a neat bit of obfuscation. Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina del Rey), who is carrying the bill for the ASRM, labels it a 'pay equity' bill....
"But it’s not about equity or discrimination. What worries the bill’s critics is that the measure may allow women to be misled into taking uninformed health risks by the prospect of easy cash."
The legislation surfaced at Buzzfeed in a piece by Cora Lewis and Azeen Ghorayshi. They quoted Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the fertility industry group, American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), that is sponsor of the legislation.
“'It’s (the bill is) needed to correct a strange and outdated feature in California law.'...Women are paid when they donate eggs to make babies, and people are paid when they are research subjects, he noted. 'But if you combine the two, you can’t be compensated. I don’t think that makes any sense,' Tipton said."
Another piece appeared on the Undark web site. It was written by Diane Tober, an assistant professor at UC San Francisco. She wrote,
"As a researcher myself, I can sympathize with the seduction of discovery, and the lure of developing new technologies and treatments that stem cell research may offer society at large. The millions of dollars of funding available to support such research would also be enticing.
"But the history demonstrates that the burden of human experimentation has rested on the shoulders of the socially and economically disadvantaged. The focus of AB-2531 is to obtain eggs for research, but it ignores the need for research into the impacts of the myriad drugs and procedures used to coax and extract those eggs in the first place." 
Leading the drive against the measure, vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013, is the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley. It is circulating a flyer aimed at California lawmakers that says,
"This bill incentivizes invasive procedures that expose women to substantial short-term and unknown long-term health risks."
Brown has given no indication that he has changed his position on the measure.

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