New York State has become the first US state to begin paying women for their eggs for use in stem cell research.
The Empire State Stem Cell Board (ESSCB), which oversees New York's $600 million stem cell research program that was launched last year, came to the decision last week (June 11) following "extensive deliberation" from its ethics committee.
"The Board agreed that it is ethical and appropriate for women donating oocytes for research purposes to be compensated in the same manner as women who donate oocytes for reproductive purposes and for such payments to be reimbursable as an allowable expense" under state taxpayer-backed grants, the ESSCB wrote in a statement.
The board noted that researchers in other states that ban financial reimbursement have mostly failed to recruit women to donate eggs for free.
Ethicists are split
"I don't think it's a good idea," Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Scientist. It's "more ethically acceptable" to pay women to harvest eggs for in vitro fertilization programs because donor eggs have proven successful in assisted fertility treatments. With stem cell research, "the risk benefit ratio starts to slide," Caplan said. "It's a lot iffier a proposition and I think that makes a difference. In research you don't know what you're going to get, and the odds are that cloning for research is never going to work." ...
Ronald M. Green, a bioethicist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said he's "glad to see" the ESSCB's decision. Green, who serves pro bono on the ethics advisory board of Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts-based biotech company, said that it's ethical and necessary to pay women to donate eggs for stem cell research if researchers want to investigate the potential of therapeutic cloning. "It's discriminatory and sexist not to pay for eggs," Green said, noting that men can be paid for sperm. "It is paternalistic and protective to say that [women] can't make this decision."
But many critics, including Father Thomas Berg, director of the Catholic think tank Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person, argue that compensation will lead to the exploitation of poor and disenfranchised women. Paying women as much as $10,000 -- the upper limit under the ESSCB's directives -- will "create an undue inducement" that will put vulnerable women at risk, he said. "It's precedent setting."