The Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill that prevents both private and state-funded laboratories from paying women to donate eggs for human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. The Reproductive Health and Research Bill (SB1260), sponsored by state Senators Deborah Ortiz and George Runner, will limit compensation to reimbursement for direct expenses incurred by egg donors. It also says that women who are considering donating eggs must be fully informed of the potential risks, and that they must provide both written and oral consent before undergoing the procedure.
In November 2004, Californians voted in favour of Proposition 71, which established the California Institute of Reproductive Medicine (CIRM) and agreed to it issuing bonds to fund $3 billion of grants for ES cell research. Federal funds are only available for researchers who work on ES cell lines created on or before 9 August 2001, when President Bush laid down his stem cell policy. Since then, several states have passed legislation to provide state funding for such research. Although a provision under Proposition 71 prevented state-funded scientists from paying egg donors, the new measure has now extended this to cover private laboratories.
Marcy Darnovsky, of the Center for Genetics and Society, welcomed the bill. 'Similar provisions have been adopted as law in other countries and recommended as voluntary guidelines elsewhere in the United States, but the new California law is the first of its kind in the country', she said. She added that the passage of SB1260 had taken on added importance because several biotech companies and research teams in California had begun research using cloning techniques (SCNT), which requires large numbers of eggs.
The measure was passed in the same week as conference on the medical and psychological risks of egg donation, organised by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. The meeting, held in San Francisco, will form the basis of a formal report on the risks of egg donation, to be published in a few months time. 'This meeting is great and it's about time', said delegate Susan Berke, of the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research. 'They're finally focussing on women', she said, adding 'every other slide show until this showed us the eggs as if they just magically appeared'.