The brave new world of biotechnology continues to present us with vexing dilemmas. The latest is the issue of whether women ought to have the right to be compensated when they donate their eggs to infertile couples. The Arizona House, by a 33-22 vote on Wednesday, passed a bill that would make such sales a criminal offense.
The bill does not criminalize the uncompensated donation of human eggs, but an accompanying measure would require that donors be informed of the medical risks involved. These, according to an April 28 report in Wired magazine, include “complications such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, and bleeding or rupture of ovarian cysts” due to hormones administered to induce “superovulation.”
Such risks prompted the National Academies to recommend that scientists be banned from paying women for eggs. In a report released April 26, the academies concluded that women’s health must take priority over financial incentives. But ethicists with whom Wired talked opined that “If the goal is to offer an infertile couple the chance to become parents, that end is more morally acceptable than for an experiment that may or may not one day lead to human therapies.”
In justifying the House bill its sponsor, Rep. Bob Stump, cited the prospect of eggs being used in cloning research as well as his concern for the donor’s health. But the bill makes no distinctions between donations for parenthood or for science. Compensated donation would be illegal, period.
That — and the dearth of any similar sanctions for the male donation of sperm — has rubbed female legislators the wrong way. Reps. Krysten Sinema of Phoenix and Linda Lopez of Tucson, both Democrats, argued that the law should not treat the two genders differently.
The bill has a long way to go — it must first pass the Senate and then face the scrutiny of Gov. Janet Napolitano. But whether it is rejected or becomes law, an end to contention over the issue is unlikely.