Monday, April 9, 2007

If embryonic stem cell researchers have their way, young women will soon be paid to lay eggs on demand like chickens in a factory farm, but with more pain and personal risk. While The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S.5) promises taxpayer dollars for research on so-called “leftover” embryos in fertility clinics, those pushing to get it passed into law know something about these frozen embryos that the general public does not know: Only a small fraction have been made available by their parents for research.

According to a study published in the journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, only 2.8 percent of the estimated 400,000 frozen embryos have been designated by their parents for use in research. And this small fraction could produce, the study claims, only 275 new embryonic stem cell lines at most.

The biotech industry says it needs millions of embryos and stem cell lines for the research it wants to do, not 275, which reveals why S.5 is a farce: This bill is not about getting tax funding for several dozen stem cell lines; it’s about laying the groundwork for cloning human embryos for research, the only way the biotech industry can get a virtually unlimited supply of embryos.

But every cloned human embryo requires at least one human egg, and here the biotech industry confronts another obstacle. Human eggs are scarce, and demand will be vast if the human cloning technique is ever perfected.

In 2004, a South Korean scientist claimed to have created the first stem cell line from a cloned human embryo. The South Korean National Bioethics Committee later revealed this claim was false, but the world learned of the exploitation in obtaining the 2,221 human eggs he used while failing to create even one stem cell line.

In fact, scientists do not know how many eggs are needed to create a single stem cell line from cloned human embryos. But there is no doubt as to their source: the bodies of young women.

Harvesting eggs from the bodies of women for use in research is highly controversial. Yet Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts biotech firm, admits to paying women $4,000 for their eggs. A March 2006 cover story in USA Today entitled “Egg donor business booms on campus” revealed that cash-strapped college students were offered thousands of dollars from biotech firms for their eggs. Ads in California and Massachusetts college papers offer $5,000 per surgery.

Complications from ovarian stimulation and extraction include acute respiratory distress syndrome, kidney failure, ovarian torsion and Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome that can cause infertility, blood clots, stroke, kidney failure, heart attack and even death. Julia Derek, author of “Confessions of a Serial Egg Donor” made so many “donations” (for which she was paid $3,500 each) that her body eventually shut down. Last week at a briefing for Congress members and staff, Angela Hickey spoke of how Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome put the body of her 32-year-old daughter Jacqueline into respiratory distress, causing her death.

This week or next the Senate will likely vote on S.5. President Bush has promised to veto it, for which Americans should be grateful.

S.5 is a deceptive bait-and-switch campaign to get big biotech into taxpayers’ pockets and to lay the groundwork for massive cloning of human embryos. If the biotech industry can convince Congress to pay for research using newly destroyed embryos, overturning Mr. Bush’s policy, there is nothing in the law to stop taxpayer dollars from going to research on cloned embryos, the industry’s true goal. All this is a recipe for exploiting women, who deserve better than being treated as egg factories.

Cathy Ruse is senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council.

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