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Egg Harvesting a Danger to Women


Location: Washington, DC

Egg Harvesting a Danger to Women

By Congressman Joe Pitts

There's a new commodity on the world market that you may not have heard about. The going price is high, between $8,000 and $20,000 per batch. Some offers have even been as high as $50,000. The primary market for this ‘product' is a strange juncture of elite college campuses in the United States and needy women in Eastern Europe. What do these two places have in common? Both are home to young women looking for money and vulnerable to exploitation.

The ‘commodity' on sale in this market may be shocking to many. The market deals in human eggs. As research increases into cloning and embryonic stem cell therapies, there is a massive demand for the eggs from women's ovaries. Thousands of eggs are needed to fulfill the demand in research labs and fertility clinics around the world.

The factor limiting supply in this market is biological. A woman produces just one, sometimes two eggs, per menstrual cycle. This means a woman's body produces roughly 12 eggs per year given a natural cycle. With the demand for eggs so high, the ‘egg brokers' try to maximize production by inducing an irregularly large number of eggs from the woman's ovaries. This is accomplished by a procedure known in the field as ovulation induction. A large dosage of hormones is introduced into a woman's body, in a sense fooling her ovaries into producing many eggs at one time. In one case, a woman produced 65 eggs in one cycle.

This process poses significant health risks to the woman involved, risks that science and medicine have yet to fully understand. This lack of understanding is one of the most disturbing aspects of the egg donor market.

Though the risks are not totally understood at this time, what is known is that the procedure has had negative and sometimes fatal consequences for many unsuspecting women. A 22-year-old Stanford graduate, Calla Papademas, suffered a massive stroke and brain damage after she participated in this egg extraction procedure.

Jessica Grace Wing, another Stanford student, died at the age of 31 in 2003. Jessica developed colon cancer after she underwent an egg extraction procedure.

The industry claims that the women involved have been provided with information regarding the procedures and have knowingly agreed to proceed. However, what the women are told is ‘there is no evidence of long term risk.' Unfortunately, this is true, but it means something very different from saying ‘there is no long term risk.' Without any substantial research or studies into the effects of the procedure, the risks remain unknown.

The problem is that the individuals responsible for ‘informing' these young women have a stake in the system. They have no motivation to find out what the long term effects are because it might limit their access to the eggs they need.

As cloning research moves forward, it will require an ever greater number of eggs to carry out the procedures. Young women, especially, are targeted as the source for these eggs because they are considered the most fertile.

Ads pepper campus newspapers at America's elite campuses looking for young women to donate eggs. Large sums of money entice many young women who are looking for a way to pay for books or college loans. They are told that the process will be relatively harmless, yet many of them have suffered side effects that include stroke, cancer, infertility, and, in some cases, death. These results can hardly be considered harmless.

One U.S. company has expanded its market globally, setting up shop in Romania. This expansion is driven by the same market forces as any other commodity—produce a good at a lower cost. Eastern Europe stands ready to become a thriving new marketplace because of its ready supply of poor and often times less educated women. These women are paid a fraction of the price for the same procedure.

It is tragic that a woman's body has become a commodity, that the long term effects of this procedure remain unknown, and that countless stories of suffering women remain untold. At the heart of the issue is the exploitation of women in the name of science.

These young women deserve to know what this procedure will do to their bodies.

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