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The stem cell debate continues: the buying and selling of eggs for research
  1. F Baylis1,
  2. C McLeod2
  1. 1
    Novel Tech Ethics, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  2. 2
    Department of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
  1. Françoise Baylis, 1234 Le Marchant Street, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 3P7; francoise.baylis{at}

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Now that stem cell scientists are clamouring for human eggs for cloning-based stem cell research, there is vigorous debate about the ethics of paying women for their eggs. Generally speaking, some claim that women should be paid a fair wage for their reproductive labour or tissues, while others argue against the further commodification of reproductive labour or tissues and worry about voluntariness among potential egg providers. Siding mainly with those who believe that women should be financially compensated for providing eggs for research, the new stem cell guidelines of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) legitimise both reimbursement of direct expenses and financial compensation for many women who supply eggs for research. In this paper, the authors do not attempt to resolve the thorny issue of whether payment for eggs used in human embryonic stem cell research is ethically legitimate. Rather, they want to show specifically that the ISSCR recommended payment practices are deeply flawed and, more generally, that all payment schemes that aim to avoid undue inducement of women risk the global exploitation of economically disadvantaged women.

In December 2006, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR)—a scientific membership organisation for stem cell scientists, laboratories and biotechnology companies—released its Guidelines for the conduct of human embryonic stem cell research (hereafter the ISSCR Guidelines).1 One of the ethically controversial issues addressed therein is financial compensation for women who provide eggs used to create research embryos for stem cell science. Significantly, this issue is one of the few on which authors of the ISSCR Guidelines did not readily agree.2 Some argued that altruism alone should motivate women to provide eggs for research and that even reimbursement of direct expenses could result in abuse. Others insisted that it would be both unfair and exploitative to have women …

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  • Françoise Baylis, PhD, FRSC, is a member of the Board of Directors of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada. The views expressed herein are her own.

  • Research funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • i Examples of these guidelines and laws are the National Research Council guidelines3 and laws in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland,4 California,5 France,6 South Korea7 and Canada.8

  • ii Human cloning involves the insertion of nuclear DNA from a human somatic cell into an enucleated human egg, which is then activated so that it starts dividing, becoming an embryo from which stem cell lines can be derived.

  • iii For obvious reasons, we follow the ISSCR Guidelines in using the term “providers” rather than “donors” when there is payment involved.

  • iiii To be clear, with a system of altruistic donation that permits reimbursement for direct, receipted expenses (including such things as travel, accommodation and childcare and excluding such things as inconvenience, time, pain and discomfort), any inducement that might occur would not be undue. Such inducement would simply aim to ensure that a woman’s altruistic decision to provide eggs for research did not result in personal financial loss.

  • Abbreviations:
    Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
    International Society for Stem Cell Research
    in vitro fertilisation
    Medical Research Council
    ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
    Stem Cell Research Oversight