The Empire State Stem Cell Board recently decided that from now on New York women who decide to give up their eggs for embryonic stem cell research will be monetarily compensated for their time and trouble. This decision, which was made quietly earlier this month, makes New York the first state to allow researchers to compensate egg donors. The cash in question is part of a 600 million dollar grant of taxpayer money, which the state received for stem cell studies.
David Hohn, who is vice chairman of the Stem Cell Board called the decision a chance to “break some new territory,” and “remove barriers to the greatest extent possible,” however many, including some staunch supporters of stem cell research, found the move to be too bold. Jonathan D. Moreno, a professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out that the field of stem cell research, already a firestorm of debate, did not need more controversy.
Proponents of stem cell research claim that because of their unique nature, experimentation on human embryonic stem cells is the most promising of all the recent advances in biomedical science. Researchers are hoping that with more eggs—and therefore embryos and stem cells with which to experiment—cures for a large number of debilitating diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, will only be around the corner. But at what cost?
Critics of the decision fear for the likely result of exploitation of women—poor women in particular. Although it has been commonplace for women to be compensated for eggs given for the purpose of in-vitro fertilization, poor women have not been a part of those solicited for this type of donation. Thomas Berg, a Catholic priest who serves on the Empire State Stem Cell Board’s ethics committee opposed the decision to compensate donors. “With the economy the way it is, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that when a woman is looking at receiving up to $10,000 to sign up for research project, that’s an undue inducement…I think it manipulates women. I think it creates a trafficking in human body parts.”
Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University, agreed with Fr. Berg saying that “Whenever society starts to pay for relationships that are traditionally done with altruism and generosity within families, it raises the issue of whether there is anything that is not for sale.” As part of the new guidelines that were set at the board ruling, women who donate their eggs for stem cell research in New York will be paid somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 for their donation.
Read more about it at The Washington Post.