New bill rekindles old human egg payment fight
California women interested in profiting from their eggs — often handsomely — have long availed themselves of private opportunities to do just that. Now, they could have another chance to do so on the medical research market.
“Sponsored by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the leading body for the fertility industry, AB2531 would overturn a 2006 law barring researchers from paying women,” as BuzzFeed reported. “The bill is pitting some scientists who want to use the eggs for research against women’s health advocates, who say it would incentivize poor women to take unnecessary health risks.”
“Adding urgency to the issue, many scientists are eager for more eggs to study cloning, stem cells, and fertility in a state that invests more in biomedical research than any other.”
An acrimonious history
Golden Staters have experienced controversy around human egg sales before. Over a decade ago, the politics of bioresearch became a hot-button issue statewide. “The fight began in 2004, when California voters passed Proposition 71,” Undark recalled. “This initiative made stem cell research in the state a constitutional right, but state legislators — following ethical guidelines developed by the National Academy of Sciences with regard to eggs donated for stem cell research — incorporated restrictions on donor compensation.”
The limits were codified in Section 12355 of Chapter 2 of the California Health and Safety Code, which prohibits “payment in excess of the amount of reimbursement of direct expense incurred as a result of the procedure […] to any subject to encourage her to produce human oocytes for the purposes of medical research.”
Then, three years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, leaving California one of just three states, in addition to Massachusetts and South Dakota, that prohibits compensation for eggs provided to medical researchers.
“Not everything in life is for sale nor should it be,” Gov. Brown wrote in his veto statement. “This bill would legalize the payment of money in exchange for women submitting to invasive procedures to stimulate, extract and harvest her eggs for scientific research. In medical procedures of this kind, genuinely informed consent is difficult because the long term risks are not adequately known. Putting thousands of dollars on the table only compounds the problem,” he noted, invoking the kind of deep and extended philosophical reflection for which he has become a figure of some political fascination — and, at times, irritation — among fellow Democrats.
Scrambled battle lines
In the wake of Brown’s veto, an incensed Bonilla told the Huffington Post that women “should be very troubled that Gov. Brown doesn’t think they should be able to have a choice when it comes to their own eggs. There’s a deeper level in his veto statement that questions the ability of a woman to engage in informed consent and assess the risks for herself of this procedure. It’s regressive to women’s health, medical breakthroughs and the fertility issues that are so very important for a woman.”
The issue has remained sharply divisive. But it has also united traditionalist conservatives, hoping to stop fertility from complete commodification, with progressive liberals alarmed by in inequalities of power and privilege the bill could encourage.
“Opposition to the measure includes Dorothy Roberts, a nationally recognized bioethicist who serves on the research standards group of the California stem cell agency. Also opposed is the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley,” according to the California Stem Cell Report. Executive Director Marcy Darnovsky, the site added, “noted that the proposed law conflicts with the standards of the California stem cell agency and recommendations of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.” Meanwhile, Michael Hiltzlik suggested at the Los Angles Times, despite claims from the Bonilla wing of the Democratic Party, “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.”
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