Naomi Cahn and June Carbone had a very nice op-ed in the L.A. Times on Saturday entitled “Leveling the Field for Human Egg Donors.” Their topic is a bill co-sponsored by four female Democratic legislators that would allow women to sell their eggs for research, just as men can sell their sperm. They largely endorse the bill, but make three interesting recommendations:
1) Better study and tracking of the health implications for donors. The hormones used have been associated with potentially severe reactions, and women undergoing egg retrieval risk infection and bleeding. There are currently no funds for research on the long-term effects, and little government oversight. California should require tracking and follow-up studies to assess the health risks of egg donation, regardless of the purpose for which the eggs are provided.
2) Researcher responsibility for ensuring that recruitment practices do not exploit women. Researchers should have a duty to oversee clinic recruitment practices and to report on their efforts.
3) Research protocol sensitivity to potential competition for a limited supply of donors. Researchers should prioritize efforts to acquire excess eggs rather than solicit new ones. Where recruitment of new donors is necessary, researchers should avoid practices that would limit the supply for reproductive purposes.
As always they are eloquent and thoughtful. On (2) I suspect our views on what counts as exploitation differ (for mine see this article).
One thing that is interesting about the structure of their argument is it plays on two asymmetries — that between the treatment of sperm sale vs. egg sale and that between the sale of eggs for reproductive purposes vs. research purposes. In Eli Adashi and my recent New England Journal of Medicine article on selling embryos we use a somewhat similar argument structure. One thing Cahn and Carbone’s Op-Ed does not address (and this is not finding fault since the space is so short in these kinds of things) is what to say to someone who accepts the first but not the second assymetry. That person thinks that sperm and egg should be treated similarly for sale purposes, but thinks that sale for reproduction is quite different from sale for research. The argument might be that in one the typical anti-commodificationist evils often raised are overcome by the fact that a good will come out of it in the potential birth of a child; by contrast in the research setting, the result will be a further evil of embryo destruction (again I am channeling this hypothetical voice not my own).