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State plan to pay for eggs used in research called 'grossly unethical'
Jennifer Burke
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Monday, June 22, 2009
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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (CNS)—An official of the New York State Catholic Conference has criticized as "grossly unethical, dangerous and exploitative" a plan that allows state funds to be paid to women who donate their eggs for research purposes.
The move was approved June 11 by the Empire State Stem Cell Board, which oversees $600 million in New York taxpayer funds earmarked for stem-cell research.
Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the conference, which represents the state's bishops in public-policy matters, said the plan "treats women's body parts as commodities."
New York is the only state in the nation thus far to decide to pay women for their eggs, she added.
The stem-cell board approved payments of up to $10,000 for each retrieval, which Gallagher said surely will be tempting for low-income women who are struggling to support themselves and their families. Yet she noted that the retrieval process can be painful and has been linked to health risks and loss of fertility.
"In this economy people are desperate," she said. "Vulnerable women should not be coerced into risking their health and their lives for speculative science with speculative benefits."
Father Thomas Berg, a priest of the New York Archdiocese who is executive director of the Catholic think tank Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person in Thornwood, N.Y., agreed that the plan will be most exploitative of low-income women. A member of the stem-cell board's Ethics Committee, Father Berg voiced his opposition to the plan during the June 11 meeting but was outvoted.
"I can assure you, it won't be the upper-class set who responds to state inducement and risks potentially life-threatening side-effects of human egg harvesting; it will be the vulnerable classes of cash-strapped and college-aged women who will be exploited by the state in this scheme," Father Berg said in a June 12 statement.
Researchers want access to larger quantities of eggs so they can create more human embryos for research purposes, Gallagher told the Catholic Courier, Rochester diocesan newspaper, June 12, but adult stem cells have thus far shown much more promise for medical uses than have embryonic stem cells.
"In a desperate quest and unprecedented measure to obtain women's eggs to create embryos for research purposes, New York will waste taxpayers' money on unproven science, and women who take the bait will be risking their health and future fertility," Father Berg said.
Gallagher said the Catholic conference has drafted a bill that would overturn the board decision by prohibiting payment for eggs.
She has been meeting with state legislators to garner support for the bill, but said she did not expect the Senate or Assembly to act on the bill before the legislative session's scheduled end June 22. However, she said the Catholic conference will promote its bill in the next legislative session.
"Payments to women for the extraction of their eggs crosses an ethical line that New Yorkers should not be forced to finance," Gallagher said.
"Regardless of one's position on embryonic stem-cell research, we can all agree that women should not be exploited by researchers, with state approval," she added. "The Legislature should step in now to ban payments for eggs."

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