By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A pro-life feminist group has filed suit in New York State’s Supreme Court to block the use of taxpayer funds to pay women recruited to “donate” their eggs for embryonic stem cell research.
“New York State has the responsibility to protect women,” said Feminists Choosing Life of New York’s (FCLNY) Executive Director, Wendy McVeigh. “Instead, the state is using taxpayers’ dollars to entice young, economically vulnerable women to experiment in this medically risky procedure.”
At present, New York State is the first governmental entity anywhere in the U.S. to approve taxpayer money to pay women to undergo an invasive procedure to harvest eggs for embryonic stem cell research.
The legal complaint, Feminists Choosing Life of New York v. Empire State Stem Cell Board, was filed on October 9, 2009. In part, it states, “The Payment for Eggs Program provides significant monetary inducements to women to engage in this painful and risky procedure, which in part disproportionately appeals to economically vulnerable women . . . . (It) . . . fails to satisfactorily provide for informed consent and other safeguards to ensure adequate disclosure to women of the risks of egg harvesting.”
Egg stimulation and extraction carries significant health risks, including, but not limited to, ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, clotting disorders, kidney damage, ovarian twisting, pulmonary embolism, damage to future reproductive ability, and stroke.
In 2007, the New York State Legislature committed $600 million for stem cell research. Two yeas later, on June 11, 2009, the Empire State Stem Cell Board (ESSCB), which was given the responsibility for administering the funds, passed a resolution authorizing significant taxpayer monies of up to $10,000 per donation to be used to compensate young women who donate their eggs for research.
According to the Catholic News Agency, at the time of the decision, Fr. Thomas Berg, who is a member of the ESSCB’s Ethics Committee, criticized the board for not allowing public comment. He also charged that the plan was “a gross exploitation of women for speculative research.”
The FCLNY suit also contends that the payment program does not meet standards of informed consent and lacks other safeguards to ensure the disclosure of the risks associated with egg harvesting.
“There are no studies on the long-term safety effects of the medications and procedures used to extract eggs via hormonal stimulation,” the complaint says. “For this reason, researchers cannot fully inform donors of the risks of egg harvesting, making the woman’s consent incomplete and of dubious validity.”
FCLNY also argues that research on adult stem cells, which are plentiful and don’t involve the ethical and medical concerns of embryonic stem cell research, have produced positive results that make the egg donation program funded by taxpayer monies excessive spending.
As McVeigh points out, the National Institutes of Health do not permit federal dollars to be spent on stem cell research that uses embryos derived from procedures that “require women to donate oocytes [eggs], due to the “health and ethical implications, including the health risk to the [egg] donor.”
The National Academies of Sciences agrees with this stance. “No cash or in kind payments should be provided for donating oocytes (eggs) for research purposes.”
Responding to the criticism, the Stem Cell Board issued a statement that said, “[E]xperiences in other jurisdictions indicate that lack of reasonable compensation to women who donate their oocytes to stem cell research has created a significant impediment to such donation, limiting the progress of stem cell research.”
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