The Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC) strongly decries the practice of deriving human embryonic stem cells through cloning because it exploits women for their eggs, it commodifies human life, and it is unnecessary.
In the June 6, 2013, issue of the scientific journal Cell, researchers announce that they have successfully derived human embryonic stem cells through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) cloning. The authors of the article, “Human Embryonic Stem Cells Derived by Somatic Nuclear Transfer,” acknowledge their reliance on women to supply their eggs (donors) to make this research possible. The paper discloses that 10 women were paid to “donate” more than 120 eggs.
The primary means by which these eggs are procured is ovarian hyperstimulation. The health risks associated with ovarian hyperstimulation and egg extraction are serious, in both the short and long term. They include ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), ruptured cysts, ovarian torsion, infection, bleeding, kidney failure, stroke, and even death. Longer term risks include loss of fertility and cancers from the fertility drugs women who supply their eggs must take.
Harvesting” eggs is an onerous, invasive, and painful procedure. A woman must self-inject synthetic hormones every day for weeks to stimulate multiple egg production. A commonly used drug, Lupron, has never been approved by the FDA for such use. The medical literature states that young women—the target age group for egg “donation”—are most at risk for developing OHSS.
Women contemplating selling their eggs are not told that no long-term studies have been conducted on the health risks involved. Many are not aware that there is virtually no regulation of egg trafficking in the United States; no national registry to keep records and track patient follow-up; or that the commercial fertility industry has every reason to minimize the health risks because of the enormous profits generated. Under these circumstances, it is impossible for women to give ‘informed’ consent.
Kathleen Sloan, a consultant to the CBC and Board Member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) stated, “This confirms the suspicion of many that what is driving this push for human eggs is cloning research and the patenting gold rush. No one can patent stem cell lines from existing embryos because they are not ‘new in nature,’ but cloned stem cell lines can be, and they may be sold to other researchers, Big Pharma, etc. Women are already being exploited, commodified, and subjected to serious physical harms through reproductive egg trafficking. This new door that has been opened must be closed immediately to stop this gross violation of women’s human rights.”
As medical providers and scientific researchers consider the findings from this report, the Center for Bioethics and Culture urges reconsideration of the entire project. Contrary to what many believe, such efforts are unlikely to bring about true medical advances. Other, ethically noncontroversial sources of stem cells exist (for example, induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs and so-called adult stem cells). This research will only jeopardize the health of women and the dignity of all human life.