Ethical and health concerns have long spurred Catholic and other pro-life activists to decry medical and scientific procedures involving the harvesting of women’s eggs. Such concerns have only grown deeper in 2010, due to the very real possibility of public funds being put toward big-cash payments for women who sell their eggs to the state.
Since the early 1990s, the United States has been one of the few world nations in which a woman can legally sell eggs harvested from her body for purposes of reproduction by in-vitro fertilization. Though such arrangements commonly are called egg “donation,” in reality they involve the selling of eggs, since prospective parents typically purchase the eggs and cover the donor’s medical expenses.
Now New York state has taken this arrangement to a new level, thanks to legislation passed in June 2009 making it the first state to approve taxpayer-funded buying of human eggs for research on cloned embryos. The United States is the only country in the world that permits this, noted Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator. A woman can potentially earn several thousand dollars for selling her eggs, either for reproductive or research purposes.
Using taxpayer money to buy human eggs was the basis for a lawsuit brought in October 2009 by the advocacy group Feminists Choosing Life of New York against the Empire State Stem Cell Board, which is charged with implementing the 2009 legislation.
In August, Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice Roger D. McDonough rejected FCLNY’s suit, concluding that the eggs-for-pay program can’t be challenged until a donor is injured and files her own lawsuit.
Within days of McDonough’s ruling, FCLNY began the appeal process. Jean Baric, an FCLNY advisory-board member, said FCLNY’s appeal will be heard in the state’s Appellate Division Third Department during the upcoming months.
“We think it is silly to wait until a woman suffers a negative consequence from this program before this lawsuit can be brought,” Baric said.
FCLNY contends that the program would unfairly target young women lured by the promise of large payments but who are not made aware of egg harvesting’s health hazards arising from high doses of fertility drugs necessary to produce numerous eggs, egg-retrieval surgery or both. Among the potential health consequences are stroke, pulmonary embolism, kidney damage, clotting disorder, cancer, ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, ovarian twisting, damage to future reproductive ability and even death.
“We’re very pleased that Feminists Choosing Life are pursuing the dignity, well-being and health of women by pursuing their complaint,” Armantrout said.
Baric described egg donation as a highly unregulated industry that has no federal guidelines and does not do adequate research on the aftereffects of egg donation.
“It’s known as the Wild West of medicine,” remarked Baric, a parishioner of St. Louis in Pittsford.
She said actual payment for eggs in New York likely has not begun yet due to the lengthy application process involved, and hopes that FCLNY’s appeal will prove successful before any money changes hands.
“New York state has gone over an ethical barrier,” Baric said. “We feel like we’re taking a stand for the whole country, to stop this in its tracks.”
Similar concerns are raised in the documentary “Eggsploitation,” a 40-minute independent film that was released July 28. The film centers on interviews with three young, highly educated women in California who claim they sold their eggs to infertility clinics and nearly died as a result. (To purchase a DVD copy of “Eggsploitation,” visit www.eggsploitation.com.)
Armantrout lauded “Eggsploitation,” saying that whether eggs are donated for the purpose of creating babies or for conducting research on embryos, the process involves women risking their health for cash and thus deserves serious scrutiny.
Teaching that life begins at conception, the Catholic Church decries the creation and ultimate discarding of embryos for research. Armantrout also noted that the church opposes any type of in-vitro process since it involves fertilization outside of natural conception. She said that Catholic viewpoints, though not mentioned explicitly, are very much represented in the FCLNY lawsuit and “Eggsploitation.”
“The Catholic Church has extensive teaching on these topics — however, in the world of law, you have to tackle the issues one by one,” Armantrout said, referring to the FCLNY lawsuit’s focus on money and health concerns rather than moral teachings.