Friday, April 20, 2007

"White embryos, good for babies; black embryos: perfect for cures!"*

Here's a new twist on the stereotype of the "good Negro" who sacrifices herself for the good of the rest of us. I don't mind a Christ-figure with dark skin if the sacrifice is intentional. But if it's not...

I wrote this as a longer Op-ed piece rather than a letter to the editor. I intend to release it to all the press venues I can think of, local and national. I will also snail mail it to our representatives, who at the last SB5 hearing exhibited ostrich-like behavior when alerted to this new wrinkle to the discussion. I am convinced that within a year, the feminist and minority communities will understand and be on board with the health issue of exponentially multiplying the number of instances of hyperovulation that will be necessary for SCNT. Meanwhile, let's fight the local bills and do all we can to bring people of good will to this realization before it is too late.

If Senate Bill 5 is passed in Delaware, what population of young women will bear the burden of providing eggs for somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)? Is Delaware willing to mine the bodies of its poorest female citizens in order to get on the SCNT bandwagon in pursuit of tenuous, highly speculative cures?

Senate Bill 5 allows for somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Most Delawareans by now are aware that SCNT creates a cloned human embryo that will be killed and stripped of its cells at the 5 th to 7th day of development (the blastocyst stage). Pro-cloning folks are content to sacrifice nascent human life in exchange for the possibility of cures for disease. But do even they understand the second reality of somatic cell nuclear transfer? Every instance of somatic cell nuclear transfer requires a human egg to be extracted from a young, fertile woman. To produce the thousands of cloned embryos needed for research, scientists will need thousands of young women to undergo the same complex, painful and risky procedure of egg extraction that IVF patients undergo.

On International Women's Day this year in March, an unlikely coalition of pro-choice and pro-life folks came together to hold a symposium on the implications for women's health and welfare of widespread egg extraction for somatic cell nuclear transfer. A You Tube video "Trading on the Female Body" ( ) summarizes that symposium. One of its most powerful testimonies comes from a woman whose daughter died from Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) while undergoing egg extraction as an IVF patient. What will happen when ovarian hyperstimulation moves beyond the confined population of women who undergo the procedure in hope of having a child to the wider population of women who endure the ordeal from economic necessity? Where will scientists obtain the eggs for SCNT?

IVF clinics regularly recruit egg donors from college campuses like University of Delaware because eggs from young, fertile, white women are what the mostly-white, mostly well-educated, mostly middle-to-upper class women who can afford IVF desire. "If you're trying to get a white middle class baby , you don't recruit egg donors from the ghetto."*

But somatic cell nuclear transfer, unlike IVF, has no requirements for egg donors other than that they be young, fertile and willing to undergo hyperstimulation. With IVF, a woman can earn $5000 a pop for donor egg extraction. Most childless couples able to finance IVF are white, and are willing to pay well for babies that are white also . Young women look at their $5000 "stipend" and figure that's a good trade-off for the risk of OHSS and the danger to future fertility.

It is doubtful, though, that experimental scientists will likewise pay $5000 a try to get donor eggs, especially when the SCNT embryo will be killed at 5-7 days. So where will researchers find a population of young women happy to donate eggs at a cut-rate price? People on both sides of the issue believe that poor and minority women will be a much-desired target population for the harvesting of eggs. Poverty lowers the threshold for what it takes to sell a precious resource. That's why paid blood donors are generally from the poorer populations.

If you need thousands of eggs to use and then quickly dispose of, and you don't want to pay top dollar because you don't have desperate, wealthy couples, you only have scarce research money, where will you court egg donors? Are you going to go to Hockessin, to Westover Hills? No. It's a no-brainer. You will look for egg donors among the young women who are poorest, most vulnerable, and most willing to undergo the procedure, no questions asked. You will target districts like Hazel Plant's (district 2), not Pam Maier's (district 21) or Debbie Hudson's (district 12).

Are Representatives Hudson and Maier, both of whom are co-sponsors of SB5, sensitive to that fact? Does Representative Plant, who is not a sponsor of the bill but appears to have jumped on the SCNT bandwagon, know what SB5 could bring to her district? If I were any of these three women I would look long and hard at the implications, for women's health in Delaware, of widespread somatic cell nuclear transfer.

So, go to You Tube. L ook at that video made by that unlikely and remarkable coalition of pro-choice and pro-life voices on International Women's Day. Then ask yourselves these questions again: If Senate Bill 5 is passed in Delaware, what population of young women will bear the burden of providing eggs for somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)? Is Delaware willing to mine the bodies of its poorest female citizens in order to get on the SCNT bandwagon in pursuit of tenuous, highly speculative cures?
*For the hyperbole-impaired, these statements do not reflect my views but my personification of the unspoken socioeconomic realities of IVF and SCNT.

Concerned? If it happens in Delaware, it can happen in your state. Consider contacting Delaware Representatives Deborah Hudson (, Delaware Senator Robert Venables (, or Delaware Representative Pam Maier (>) -- all sponsors of SB5 in Delaware --to voice your concerns.


Rae said...

The Curt Jester blogged my article and added a very relevant excerpt from Crisis Magazine:

In a 2005 editorial in the Boston Globe (“Risks to Women in Embryo Cloning”), Norsigian mentions the ESC controversy, noting, “Omitted from the polarized debate is any discussion of the thousands of women who will need to undergo egg extraction procedures for such embryo cloning. A primary concern is the substantial risks to women's health posed by the extraction procedure and the inability to obtain true informed consent from egg donors given the current lack of adequate safety data.”

Getting more specific, she points out that 3 percent to 8 percent of women who take drugs to stimulate egg production—as women do when donating eggs—
develop Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome, a condition that can be not only painful but occasionally fatal within “days after completion of egg collection.” A study published in the journal Animal Biology suggests the troubling possibility that ovarian hyper-stimulation treatments may lead to stillbirths and birth defects in future pregnancies. Additionally, the drug Lupron, which is “used to ‘shut down' the ovaries before stimulation,” produces side effects including bone loss, liver problems, and acute pain. Finally, she discusses the philosophical issue of treating women's eggs as commodities, a stance that objectifies women as mere producers of biological goods. “This is very much a women's issue,” Norsigian says elsewhere; “there is a very strong pro-choice liberal contingent that believes there is something wrong with embryo cloning.”

Among that “contingent” was California's Pro-Choice Alliance Against Proposition 71 (referring to the ESCR funding bill that eventually became law). The alliance points out that thousands of women will need to donate eggs to keep up with demand from researchers, a fact that “raises troubling questions about the exploitation of women, especially those who are young and poor.”

The feminist organization Hands Off Our Ovaries ( has as its slogan, “Because losing even one woman's life is too high a price to pay.” They note that there have been “25 deaths and over 6,000 complaints of medical complications attributed to Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome” and urge the FDA to investigate the possibilities of ovarian cancer, infertility, and birth defects that may also result from this procedure. Medical sociologist Diane Besson said in congressional testimony that in pursuing ever-increasing demands for human eggs, “We are being asked to make women the servants of biotechnology.” This idea should appall any Democrat concerned with women's health issues, especially when he or she realizes that Dr. Hwang's unsuccessful experiments into human cloning used 2,221 female egg cells (“Beyond Embryo Politics,” The Women's Health Activist ).

Egg Donors said...

Great Post.....

I found your site on stumbleupon and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

Thanks for sharing....