In a majority vote last week, the Empire State Stem Cell Board (ESSCB) decided to pay women up to $10,000 who donate their eggs for embryonic stem cell research, making New York the first state to do so.
Composed of a funding committee and ethics committee, the ESSCB agreed June 11 to compensate women using taxpayer-backed grants "for the expense, time, burden and discomfort associated with the donation process - within specified limits - as is currently permitted when women donate oocytes for reproductive purposes in New York State," according to its statement. California and Massachusetts, leading states in embryonic stem cell research, have laws prohibiting the practice.
A day after the vote, Father Thomas Berg, a member of the ESSCB ethics committee, decried the decision in a National Review Online op-ed, noting the many health risks involved in egg donation, including most commonly ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can lead to loss of fertility and death.
Berg also warned in the article that such a lofty payment for eggs will attract low-income women who may not be aware of the health risks: "When looking at the prospect of $5,000 to $10,000, most low-income women are not going to care. That's why paying women for eggs will necessarily lead to the undue inducement and consequent exploitation of women. A voluntary donor, by contrast, is much more likely to calmly weigh the pros and cons of donation, and only go through with it if she feels strongly that she is doing good."
Likewise, Jennifer Lahl, national director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network in California, told The Scientist, "[T]his is a harmful, dangerous procedure with risks, and why in the world would we take healthy, young girls who aren't patients and pump them full of hormones and subject them to a medical procedure that requires minor surgery?"
According to Jesse Reynolds at the California-based Center for Genetics and Society, the Regulatory Agency of the U.K. has already approved that women who give eggs for reproduction can receive a discount if they agree to donate some of the eggs for research. And last November, Singapore's Ministry of Health approved compensating women for loss of time and earnings while donating eggs for research.
Meanwhile, a member of former President Bush's Council on Bioethics announced this week that President Obama has disbanded the council for being "a philosophically leaning advisory group," reported The New York Times, and that he would create a new bioethics commission. This March, 10 of the council's 18 members openly criticized Obama's decision to lift restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.