CIRM to pay for eggs?

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David Prentice

Mar 31, 2008, 2:25:32 PM3/31/08
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CIRM to pay for eggs?
Posted by Elie Dolgin
The Scientist blog [Entry posted at 27th March 2008 06:22 PM GMT] (subscription required)

Recent comments by California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) President Alan Trounson imply that the agency may be looking for ways to pay women for their eggs for stem cell research.

Currently, laws in California and Massachusetts - two leader states in stem cell research - prohibit compensation for eggs. But with a shortage of available human eggs for research purposes, the issue remains a national sticking point to the progress of stem cell research and cloning science.

At a meeting of CIRM's Standards Working Group (SWG) on February 28, Trounson called on the CIRM to explore ways to reimburse women for eggs, according to the transcripts of the meeting.

"The demand for oocytes may be way beyond what we can possibly deliver," said Trounson, in response to the growing number of applications to use human eggs in research. He cited the failure of many researchers to obtain eggs through donation without financial reward. "Women are not prepared to go through those procedures without some form of compensation," he said.

Proposition 71, which was passed as a statewide ballot initiative by voters in 2004 established CIRM as an agency to award grants and loans for stem cell research. Although the legislation established stem cell research as a state constitutional right in California, it prohibits compensation for eggs, but allows reimbursement of direct expenses.

One idea that arose at the meeting was to subsidize the cost of fertility treatment for women donating eggs, as is currently done in other countries, such as the UK. However, opponents of this move argue that covering the costs of in vitro fertilization (IVF) is another form of paying for eggs. "[If] a person gets a discount in IVF, it's compensation," said Susan Fogel of the Pro-Choice Alliance at the meeting.

Trounson "called for a discussion to look into various options," said Don Gibbons, CIRM's chief communication officer. "There are no pre-conceived notions of what we want [the SWG] to do."

There is currently "no regulatory proposal on the table," said Geoff Lomax, senior officer for the SWG, who described the February 28th meeting as a "thinking out loud session." He said that plans are underway for a meeting in the late summer or early fall that will bring together scientists and special interest groups to look into different options for obtaining human eggs. "There needs to be a future meeting to talk about the issue of egg donation," Lomax told The Scientist.

Kevin Eggan of Harvard University's Stem Cell Institute told The Scientist he was "heartened" by Trounson's comments, but doubts that CIRM can do much in its role as a regulatory agency within the existing legislation. He called on the National Academy of Sciences to revisit the issue, stating that women should be compensated for providing eggs for stem cell research, just as they are for donating eggs to treat infertility and as they were in the early days of IVF research. "Clearly that's the expectation of these women for egg donation," he said. "Human research donors, which is what these women are, should be compensated for their time, their effort, and any duress they incur."

Jeff Sheehy, a CIRM board member, said he reacted "viscerally" to Trounson's announcement. "It seemed to fly in the face of Proposition 71," he said. Sheehy told The Scientist that Proposition 71 was approved following a campaign that promised a no-compensation policy for CIRM-funded research. "Why go against the will of the legislation in what voters thought they were approving?" he said.

A good review of the issues raised at the Feb. 28 meeting can be found at the California Stem Cell Report blog.

More on machinations at CIRM
by Marcy Darnovsky
[Comment posted 2008-03-28 11:11:42]

Susan Fogel of the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research attended the CIRM committee meeting at which Alan Trounson floated this proposal. She characterizes it as a "bombshell" - see her guest post on Biopolitical Times, the blog of the Center for Genetics and Society:

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