In an effort to get more eggs into the hands of cloning researchers, the president of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), Alan Trounson, recently suggested the solution to the human egg shortage is to implement an “egg-sharing” program. Rule number one: always BEWARE of euphemisms!
At the February 28, 2008, CIRM Standards Working Group, Trounson admitted, “The demand for oocytes may be way beyond what we can possibly deliver,” and “Women are not prepared to go through those procedures without some form of compensation.” Of course, Trounson’s complaint is in direct response to the number of grant applications CIRM is receiving for cloning research requiring human eggs. You see, this was never really about all those “surplus” embryos.
The wrinkle in their master Proposition 71 plan, which Klein and Co. neglected to smooth out before taking to the California voters, was assuring that they could pay for human eggs. Currently in California, cloners using Prop. 71 funds cannot pay for human eggs, a snafu I imagine the architects of Prop. 71 regret overlooking to this day. The fertility industry can and does pay for human eggs. The question begs to be asked, why can the IVF industry pay for eggs but the cloning researchers can’t?
It should be noted that Trounson made his earlier mark as a pioneer of in vitro fertilization. It’s curious, to say the least, that Samuel Wood, CEO of Stemagen, who announced on January 17, 2008, that Stemagen had “become the first in the world to create, and meticulously document, a cloned human embryo using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT),” is also a fertility doctor turned cloner.
My colleague, Josephine Quintavalle, was prophetic in her prediction that the IVF doctor and the cloning researcher would ‘lock swords’ in competition for eggs.
So, who exactly are these women who won’t want to endure those procedures without compensation in exchange for sharing some of their eggs? They are infertile women, who are undergoing fertility treatment using their own eggs, not young fertile egg-donor women.
Egg donors, frequently college students who get paid thousands to supply eggs to would-be parents, aren’t “sharing” eggs. Infertile women are going to be asked to share their eggs with the cloning researchers, but only those eggs they don’t want or won’t need. That’s why this whole “egg-sharing” scheme sounds so polite and altruistic.
But of course, all this talk about egg-sharing as the solution is yesterday’s news. I had the good fortune to recently attend a conference in London on “Mild Approaches in Assisted Reproduction”: emphasis on mild. The only way the IVF industry can get surplus eggs to “share” is by practicing severe assisted reproduction. But the medical management of the infertile patient as currently practiced is en passé, and IVF de rigeur is on the move to the new, mild, ‘less is better’ approaches.
Boon Chin Heng’s recent article in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, titled “Egg sharing in return for subsidized fertility treatment—ethical pitfalls and challenges,” echoes much that was spoken at the London conference on mild approaches. Women do much better with minimal stimulation. Why? Lots of reasons. High-dose gonadotrophins have associated risks. Ovarian hyperstimulation is dangerous for women. Egg quality is much better with minimal stimulation and endometrial receptivity is better, increasing the success of embryo implantation. And there is of course the risk of future reduction in fertility in the hyperstimulated woman.
So, the proposed solution by the CIRM needs to be exposed for what it really is: An inverted pyramid scheme, putting more women at risk and jeopardizing their future fertility in search of elusive cures for some, all because California cloners don’t want to ’fess up that they have egg on their faces.
[Jennifer Lahl is National Director for The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (cbc-network.org) and founding member of Hands Off Our Ovaries (handsoffourovaries.com).]