An Australian law professor has called for women in Australia to be paid for donating their eggs to medical research. The call, reported in Australian news last week, has been met with reservations from some ethics lobbies.
Professor Loane Skene from the University of Melbourne claims that it is important to maintain the supply of eggs to be used in stem cell research, as stem cell research could lead to cures for a range of diseases for hundreds of thousands of people. She thinks that as the technology develops, there will be a greater demand for eggs for research.
Donating eggs is different to donating sperm or blood, as the woman has to take drugs to encourage her to ovulate, and then undergo an invasive surgical procedure. Professor Skene says that women are reluctant to endure the procedure, and compensating the women would encourage them to do so.
Last month, the US became the first country to allow researchers to pay women to donating their eggs to medical research, with New York state offering them around [US]$5000. Currently, it is not legal in Australia for donors to be compensated, although donors can get reimbursed for their medical and travel expenses, and have time off from work.
Professor Skene, who was the Deputy Chair of the Lockhart Committee which advised the Australian Parliament to open up stem cell legislation in 2006, says: ‘Given the invasiveness of extracting eggs for donation to medical research, it seems reasonable for women to receive some financial compensation’.
But paying women for eggs could encourage ‘disadvantaged women to put themselves at risk’ and lead to a decline in organ and blood donations, says bioethicist Associate Professor Nick Tonti-Filippini. ‘The whole system depends on altruism; it depends on the social capital of people willing to donate. Once you start paying some people then you simply take away the incentive for everybody else to continue to donate’.
Associate Professor Bernadette Tobin, director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at St Vincent’s Hospital in Syndey has also expressed concerns. She says: ‘I am sure that, with respect to many organs and tissues, an argument could be put up that a special case should be made. My view is that really would be the thin edge of the wedge and it would be the beginning of the commercialisation of this whole area of human activity’, which she does not consider a positive thing.
In response, Professor Skene said: ‘we would be living in a nanny state if we said women may be exploited for being paid for the procedure. People undertake risky jobs every day. This is no different to a consenting adult who knows the risks of surgery making an informed decision’.