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Paying Women For Their Eggs

No one supported using embryos created through IVF treatments for stem cell research more than I. But this move by New York to become the first state to let taxpayer-funded researchers pay a woman--up to $10,000--for the right to harvest her eggs for use in stem cell experiments deserves considerably more public scrutiny than it has received thus far.

For starters, we are talking about public money going toward creating embryos for the express purpose of experimentation/destruction--a major step beyond the overwhelmingly supported practice of using pre-existing embryos that would otherwise be trashed or kept indefinitely in cold storage.

Add to this the fact that egg donation isn't like sperm donation. It's a prolonged, painful, invasive process that can, in rare cases, have serious side effects--all of which helps explain why previous attempts to get women to hand over their eggs for free have been a bust. But $10,000--or $5,000, or even $1000--is an awfully big incentive for the poor and vulnerable. Especially in a bad economy.

Proponents of the move claim that it's sexist, paternalistic, insulting, etc. to assume that women can't weigh the pros and cons and make up their own minds about such a procedure. Maybe. Then again, we decided a while back that paying people to donate their organs was one road too far.

I'm not saying the parallel is exact--or that there aren't counterarguments to be made in favor of this course of action. But such a development should not pass quietly, under the public's radar. New York is blazing a bioethical trail here. Other states will eventually consider following. The time to debate what--if anything--we think should be done about that is now.  

--Michelle Cottle