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ข่าวประจำวัน : Should women be paid to donate eggs for stem cells?

Should women be paid for eggs for stem cell research?

POSTED: 1553 GMT (2353 HKT), January 23, 2007

vert.stem.cell.eggs.doc.ap.jpg

Professor Alison Murdoch says she has already heard from dozens of women eager to participate in an egg-sharing program.

Say you're a woman who wants to have fertility treatment but can't afford the $5,000 to $6,000 cost. What if you could get it for half-price, by agreeing to donate half the eggs you produce for stem cell research? Interested?

British women may get a crack at that deal in a few months, under a plan pursued by Dr. Alison Murdoch of Newcastle University.

This concept, which resembles a strategy sometimes used to get eggs for fertility treatment, is just one of several new efforts to boost the supply of human eggs needed for research. The shortage has triggered an ethical debate on both sides of the Atlantic: Should women be paid for supplying eggs?

Scientists need eggs for a process called therapeutic cloning, which creates stem cells genetically matched to an individual. It may be used someday to create tissue to treat illnesses such as diabetes and Parkinson's disease, providing transplant material that's genetically matched to the patient so that it won't be rejected. Therapeutic cloning may also help scientists develop better drug treatments.

The process involves transferring DNA into human eggs and growing them into five-day-old embryos, from which stem cells are harvested.

It's not clear just how many eggs scientists need for this research. But it is clear that for a woman, donating eggs is a significant undertaking.

By various estimates, a woman can spend 40 to 56 hours in medical offices, being interviewed, counseled and subjected to a surgical procedure, under sedation, that retrieves eggs from her body. Before that procedure, she takes hormone injections daily for more than a week to stimulate egg development.

Women donate thousands of eggs in the United States every year to help other women have babies. They are paid. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine doesn't recommend a figure but says $5,000 or more requires some justification and that $10,000 is too much. (In fact, some ads for eggs offer far more).

The medical group also says it's fine to pay women for producing eggs for stem cell research. But other guidelines and laws on that topic favor just reimbursing women for expenses.

In fact, the compensation question has split American feminists and advocates for reproductive health and rights, said Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society. One side says offering money beyond reimbursement risks exploiting disadvantaged women by offering undue inducement to participate, while the other side calls that stance paternalistic, she said.

Ethicist Laurie Zoloth of Northwestern University believes that paying compensation could exploit some women. Women who give eggs to fertility clinics are doing it for the money, she said, and as a society, "we don't ... want the bodies of the poor used for the needs of the wealthy."

"You do not see many full professors or CEOs selling eggs to secretaries or housecleaners," she said in an e-mail.

There are ways to guard against exploitation of vulnerable women, said Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University. One would be for local boards that oversee research to make sure that donors are recruited from a wide variety of groups rather than just the economically disadvantaged, she said. And limits can be set on the number of times any one woman can participate, she said.

Murdoch, who also directs a fertility treatment center in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, said that when her lab asked fertility-clinic patients to donate eggs, it received only 66 over seven months. That's just not enough, she said. In contrast, if her new plan attracts two women a week -- chosen because they appear likely to produce lots of eggs -- it would provide 20 eggs each week. That's still not a lot, but the supply should be steady, she said.

Her "egg-sharing" plan resembles an arrangement that's used occasionally at fertility clinics. In that plan, a woman shares her eggs and treatment costs with another woman who wants a baby.

Murdoch's group has permission from Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to set up the arrangement for stem cell research. Now it's a question of raising money to finance it. Murdoch said she hopes to start offering the deal to British women in a few months, and that she has already heard from dozens of women eager to participate.

Though the HFEA approved Murdoch's plans in July, it has since started gathering public and expert opinions on whether egg sharing should be permitted. "If the consensus is that this is not a good idea, we can change the policy, and rescind the license," said John Paul Maytum, an HFEA spokesman.

Some stem cell scientists are skirting the debate by finding other sources of eggs. Dr. George Daley of Harvard's stem cell institute announced in June that he would use eggs originally produced for fertility treatment but which failed to become fertilized. Usually, such eggs are discarded, but women in the fertility program Daley works with must agree to their use in research.

In any case, the need for eggs may only be temporary. They are, in fact, only a tool to reprogram the inserted DNA so that it will drive the development of an early embryo. Scientists hope to learn enough about that reprogramming process to let them take an ordinary cell from a person and use it to produce other kinds of cells, perhaps without going through an embryo stage. That might happen in 10 years, Murdoch estimated.

And then they wouldn't need eggs any more.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

ข่าวประจำวัน : 24 January 2007
แหล่งที่มา CNN
อ่าน 235





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