The state of New York is considering several proposals which would pay women who donate their eggs for research purposes, leading some Catholic ethicists to worry the move would induce poorer women to risk their health and become involved in unethical human embryo research.
New York state funds may be awarded to researchers who pay women to harvest their egg cells for research purposes if a recommendation of the ethics committee of the Empire State Stem Cell board is accepted.
Writing in National Review Online, Fr. Thomas Berg reported that the May 12 vote to recommend the practice passed “overwhelmingly.” He said the state is also considering using state funds to “reimburse” women directly for their egg donations, possibly paying several thousand dollars per donor.
If such proposals are approved, New York would become the first U.S. state to allow such payments.
Donated eggs could be used to create human embryos for research purposes, like embryonic stem cell research, or for attempts at human cloning, warned Fr. Berg, who is also a CNA columnist.
Fr. Berg also expressed concern that egg donation entails “very serious health risks” for women. Risks include moderate to serious ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS) which results in maladies ranging from bloating and nausea to infertility, organ failure and death.
The long-term risks of egg donation have rarely been studied, he said. One of the few studies conducted found that about one-third of 155 donors suffered OHSS-related health complications and five percent suffered infertility.
However, the general lack of knowledge about the effects of egg donation calls into question whether an egg donor truly has “informed consent,” Fr. Berg wrote.
Noting that egg donors for assisted-reproductive technology receive as much as $10,000 per donation, Fr. Berg said low-income women may be unduly swayed by the prospect of financial gain at the expense of their health. He noted one fertility clinic head’s comments that paid egg donations go up during times of high unemployment.
“We’re even getting men offering up their wives; it’s pretty scary,” Robin von Halle, president of Alternative Reproductive Resources, a Chicago-based fertility clinic, told the Wall Street Journal.
Seeking further comment, CNA spoke with Dr. Stephen Napier, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center.
When payments are offered for egg donation, he said, “only poor women are really going to respond. It’s a way of taking advantage of women’s poverty.”
This raises concerns about justice, he said.
He repeated concerns about the medical effects of hyperovulation hormones, saying the hormones themselves pose medical dangers to women.
Noting the eggs are paired with sperm to create human embryos, he said research would be conducted on “basically young human beings.”
“That’s really the main worry. These women would be contributing necessary material to conceive young human beings who would serve as subjects for destructive research. No one should be involved in that activity.”
“They’d be contributing to the creation of young human life [that is] only to be destroyed for research purposes.”