New York’s Empire State Stem Cell Board (ESSCB) yesterday agreed, during a meeting in Albany, NY, to commit state funds to pay women to undergo the risky process of ovarian stimulation in order to obtain human eggs for embryo research.
There was no period of public comment on the matter. The funds will be drawn out of the $600 million that has been set aside by the state for stem cell research.
The plan was vigorously denounced by pro-life advocates, including one prominent member of the ESCCB.
Fr. Thomas Berg, member of the Ethics Committee of the ESSCB, and Executive Director of the Westchester Institute, said in a statement that, “Without any involvement from the public, who might like to know that state cash will be used as an inducement for underprivileged and cash-strapped women to undergo a risky and potentially dangerous procedure, this Board has set in place a plan to allow payments to women who undergo ovarian stimulation.”
“With full knowledge that the long-term effects of ovarian stimulation are unknown, and data suggesting a link with some forms of cancer, this Board – comprised of unelected appointees – has unconscionably, and on behalf of the taxpayers, set in place a plan that will put women at risk and lets the state pay them off with lots of money. Ovarian stimulation is a dangerous and sometimes fatal procedure. This plan is a gross exploitation of women for speculative research,” said Fr. Berg.
Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, expressed the deep concerns of the state’s Catholic bishops, calling the plan a “grossly unethical, dangerous and exploitative move that treats women’s body parts as commodities.”
“It must be rejected,” she said. “If the Stem Cell Board itself moves forward with this proposal, then the state Legislature must act to prevent it.”
Gallagher argued that with the potential for $10,000 in remuneration, and the current downturn in the economic climate, low-income women may be induced to sell their eggs despite the fact that the procedure is painful and dangerous. “Such women face serious health risks and loss of fertility,” she said. “Vulnerable women should not be coerced into risking their health and their lives for speculative science with speculative benefits.”
She also pointed out that stem cell research has moved firmly away from embryo research, towards adult stem cell research, which has already proven itself to be far superior to embryo research in terms of yielding viable treatments – rendering the expensive and dangerous plan to buy women’s eggs moot. “The science of stem cell research is moving in the opposite direction,” she said, “toward research involving adult stem cells and the reprogramming of ordinary skin cells to act identical to embryonic cells. This type of research bears none of the ethical burdens of embryonic research.
“Payments to women for the extraction of their eggs crosses an ethical line that New Yorkers should not be forced to finance. Regardless of one’s position on embryonic stem cell research, we can all agree that women should not be exploited by researchers, with state approval. The Legislature should step in now to ban payments for eggs.”