California's Egg Shortage


In 2004 California passed Proposition 71, allocating $3 billion to stem cell research. The same measure banned compensation for women who would provide raw materials for said research. Thus:

Facing a human egg shortage they say is preventing medical breakthroughs, scientists and biotech entrepreneurs are pushing the country's top funders of stem cell research to rethink rules that prohibit paying women for eggs.

"You need to have enough eggs to make this thing work, and when you have enough eggs it does work," said Dr. Sam Wood, chief executive of Stemagen Corp. in La Jolla (San Diego County).

The restrictions are necessary, supporters say, to avoid creating a market for human eggs that encourages women to risk their health for speculative science.

But last month, the California institute's new president, Dr. Alan Trounson, said research into therapeutic cloning was "floundering" because too few eggs are available.

The risk of death from egg donation appears to be less than that of pregnancy. Even the small numbers we have (between 1 fatality per 50,000 cycles and 1 fatality per 450,000 cycles) are probably exaggerated, since most people who experience serious complications are pregnant women who have had their own eggs removed and implanted. It's difficult to disentangle the effects of the retrieval from those of the pregnancy itself. 

But let's say the risks of egg vending are found to be unacceptably high by some mysterious calculus of female danger. The authors of Prop 71 apparently believe that it is all right for women to take this extremely serious risk; it's simply unacceptable to compensate young women for putting themselves in harm's way. They're quite welcome to "risk their health for speculative science" so long as they do so out of feminine self-sacrifice. (Money would just confuse them, the poor dears.) I'm still waiting for someone to demand that we stop paying American soldiers to avoid creating a market that encourages men to risk their health for highly speculative military initiatives.