It is not often discussed, but perhaps the biggest losers in the new biotech revolution are women. They often pay the heaviest price, be it in IVF, surrogacy, or other assisted reproductive technologies. The same is true in the cloning debate.
Katrina George had an excellent article on this theme in the Herald Sun, November 2, 2006. Entitled, “Not enough eggs in cloning basket,” she warned how women would especially suffer if cloning is given the green light. Says George, “Cloning depends on a continuous supply of fresh human eggs and without eggs cloning is impossible. . . . Egg extraction requires large doses of powerful hormones to hyper-stimulate the ovaries. Prof Bob Williamson told federal MPs that egg extraction involved an element of discomfort and a small element of risk. An element of discomfort to say the least.”
She explains the risks: “In one study of egg donors, nearly 30 per cent reported a week or more of discomfort so significant that it kept them in bed, prevented them from working, or interfered with their ability to care for their children. A small element of risk? It’s called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, experienced by up to 10 per cent of women. Thirty or more eggs start to develop simultaneously and fluid leaks out of the blood vessels and collects in the abdomen. The ovaries can swell to the size of a grapefruit.”
But wait, there’s more: “And Prof Williamson did not mention the risk of stroke, organ failure, intrauterine polyps, ovarian cysts, respiratory distress, or that women have died. And no mention of long-term risks of infertility and reproductive cancers. It is no wonder scientists find it difficult to persuade women to hand over their eggs. Therapeutic cloning has been described as a wildly inefficient process requiring hundreds of eggs to produce just a single clone.”
And that raises another crucial question: Just where will all these eggs come from? “[The two cloning bills before the Senate] say scientists can use animal eggs. But in countries such as Britain, where there is cloning, scientists say they want fresh eggs from young women. Only the best will do. Some scientists have suggested that women with diseases such as diabetes or cystic fibrosis should donate their eggs for research. But how can it be in the best interests of these seriously ill patients to subject themselves to dangerous drugs and egg harvesting?”
She continues, “Others say the mothers, sisters and friends of the sick and suffering should donate. This would create an expectation that women sacrifice their own health and risk their lives for cures that may never happen. Cloning advocates have failed to show that you can get ova without harming women. They have offered a number of other half-baked ideas: harvesting ova from dead women, from frozen ovarian tissue and producing them from stem cell lines. None of these options is proven or reliable.”
Other proposals have been suggested: “Liberal MP Mal Washer said we could use leftover eggs from IVF, but all the research showed that cloning with left over eggs was not realistic. What about women who are undergoing IVF? Can’t they just donate a few of their extra ova? They have tried this in the UK and it doesn’t work. Women, not surprisingly, are very attached to their ova. Each precious ova is the opportunity of a baby. Why should they give them up?”
Overseas experience shows that the only guaranteed way to get a sufficient supply of eggs is to pay women to ‘donate’ them. Is that what we want here? “In Australia, we were reassured that that could never happen. Who are we kidding? It’s just taken a few years for Britain to go down the commercial path. Why do we think we will be any different? Women are not egg farms. Our lives are not collateral damage along the biotech superhighway. Australians deserve medical research that heals, not harms.”
Exactly. What is merely possible today often becomes imperative tomorrow. What we simply can do often becomes what we should do. The temptation will be all too real, especially for poor women, to sell their own eggs to scientists quite happy to pay the right price. The commercialisation of human life will continue, as sure as night follows day.
Better to head this whole sordid process off at the beginning. A complete ban on all forms of human cloning is the only way we can ensure that the Frankenstein scenarios being warned about do not become realities.