It was rather odd to see so many female Senators voting for human cloning the other week. This in spite of the fact that many have warned of the very real dangers cloning would pose to women. And it is strange to see radical feminists ignoring the warnings coming from fellow feminists. A number of women have been telling us of the dangers of cloning, only to be attacked by other feminists.
A recent case in point was the warning by Katrina George, which I wrote about recently (“Women and the New Biotechnologies”). Her level-headed concerns seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Radical feminist and big biotech junkie Leslie Cannold was quick to attack George, arguing that it is all about choice. Thus another feminist has had to defend George, spelling out the clear dangers involved in the cloning and stem cell process.
Renate Klein, writing in today’s onlineopinion.com (30 November 2006), says that the “Rhetoric of choice clouds dangers of harvesting women’s eggs for cloning”. Klein is also puzzled as to why people like Cannold are so enamoured with the new reproductive technologies, and so oblivious of, and/or hostile to, the many concerns about them. And most of these concerns are coming from women, not men.
Says Klein, “In the debate about egg extraction for cloning research it seems even those who claim to be on the side of women have been blinded by the international industrial biotech lobby.”
“Cannold and her friends in parliament seem to have taken it personally that feminists dare to speak out about the serious risks for women from the cloning juggernaut. They say we are alarmist and, according to Loane Skene and other members of the Lockhart committee, ‘pseudo feminists’, as if they think they own feminism. Much as their rhetoric about so-called ‘choice’ would seek to hide the truth, the dangers to women are real. Egg extraction is an invasive process.”
The process is certainly invasive, and risky as well: “Women are first put into chemical menopause and then given strong doses of drugs to hyperstimulate their ovaries. Up to 10 per cent of women will suffer ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome with symptoms including stroke, organ failure, respiratory distress and even death. A number of women have lost their lives through these procedures already.”
Pro-biotech feminists ramble on about choice, but things are not so simple. “Choice always occurs in particular social contexts, often characterised by significant power imbalances. Researchers want eggs to pursue their research. Biotech companies hope to cash in on an investment that may be worth millions. With a focus not on women’s health but on promised cures, women distressed by the suffering of a loved one will be under pressure to do the right thing and altruistically donate eggs. This does not mean that women are incapable of exercising choice in such a context. But it does require us to consider the power and value of such a decision.”
And genuine choice involves the ability to make a properly informed choice. This is often not happening in the world of big biotech: “A number of Australian studies cast doubt on whether women are adequately informed of the risks of egg harvesting. A survey of IVF clinic information brochures by the Government’s expert body on health standards, the National Health and Medical Research Council, found that not all mentioned the main adverse outcomes and the information was communicated in an overly positive manner.”
She continues, “A recent journal article about egg extraction in Australia concludes that whether women are adequately informed of the risks is highly debatable. When clinician and researcher are the same person, as is often the case with egg extraction, the temptation to downplay the risks to women is even greater. And just how meaningful is informed consent when the long-term health risks of egg extraction, including reproductive cancers, are not yet well understood?”
The choice to donate eggs is a far cry from other, less invasive, procedures. “The pro-cloning advocates say that egg donation is just like any other tissue donation. This is a gross misrepresentation. Unlike a kidney donation, an egg donor’s whole ovary is irreversibly bombarded with at least three different types of hormones, risking long-term damage to all remaining egg cells. Unlike kidney donation, where there are immediate benefits to the recipient, any cures derived from embryonic cloning are decades away – if they eventuate at all. Ironically, any treatments would be patented and sold back to the egg donor. The health concerns for the donors is so low on the agenda that the three-year review proposed by Senator Patterson’s Bill does not even evaluate the health of the women who have donated the eggs.”
Concludes Klein, “Women’s lives and bodies should not be invaded for the so-called ‘public good’. Women’s health must not be compromised by experimental research with no proven benefits for the donor women or their families – or anyone else. It’s time to jettison the phony rhetoric of choice in this debate. Women should not be sacrificed to the vested interests of the biotechnology industry.”
Exactly so. Women will be the big losers here, and the ironic thing is how so many of the sisterhood have sold out their own sisters in the name of choice. It is good to see feminists like Klein challenging the feminist orthodoxy, and demonstrate real concern for women.