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Egg Harvesting, Embryonic Stem Cell Research Threatens Women’s Health

The U.S. Congress is poised to pour unlimited funds into embryonic stem cell research that not only destroys innocent human life, but it has shown no substantial promise as a curative and threatens the health of women worldwide. So much for “progress and advancement.”

After more than 20 years, embryonic stem cell research has not yielded a single cure. During this same time, adult stem cells have been used to treat people with heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and at least 50 other documented conditions.

The focus on therapeutic cloning has been aimed at our heartstrings, prophesying cures for our loved ones, friends, and even movie stars. But scientists, politicians, and academics have all turned a blind eye to the women who will be affected. After all, embryonic stem cell research depends upon millions of embryos. Whether created through in vitro fertilization or somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning), each embryo requires a woman’s egg in order to be created. Theoretically, embryonic stem cell research would allow each patient to receive specialized treatment to avoid rejection complications similar to those caused by organ transplants.

Let’s take the example of just one disease. In the U.S., there are 17 million diabetes patients. In a report on therapeutic cloning in mice published in the 2003 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, scientist Peter Membaerts found that, based on cloning experiment done in mice, if the same model could be developed for human cloning, each cure for each patient would require 10–100 human eggs. Membaerts puts the cost at $100,000-200,000 per patient. To treat the 17 million American diabetes patients, we would need 170 million-1.7 billion human eggs.

On average, a woman undergoing hyper ovarian stimulation releases 10-12 eggs per treatment. In other words, somewhere between 17 million and 170 million women would be required to donate their eggs. According to the 2000 census, there are about 60 million American women of reproductive age. We can hardly assume that all 60 million American women would be willing to donate their eggs; so, mathematically speaking, there would have to be donors from outside of the US to make up for the additional eggs required to treat the disease just among Americans.

The 2004 South Korean cloning of a human being required 242 eggs for one stem cell line. For 17 million patients, that means 4,114,000,000 human eggs, about 400 million women donors.

Dr. David Prentice, Professor of Life Sciences, at Indiana State University, now at the Family Research Council, cites a 2005 South Korean report in which the average stem cell line required 17 eggs. For diabetes, that means 289 million eggs. If we follow Dr. Prentice’s model, we would need about 29 million women donors.

Regardless of which model we follow, the reality is that millions of women will be required to provide eggs. Women whose eggs are harvested undergo a long, uncomfortable, painful and potentially dangerous process called ovarian hyperstimulation. Some of the drugs used have never been approved for this use by the FDA. Complications from the procedure include a potential link to ovarian cysts and cancers, severe pelvic pain, rupture of the ovaries, stroke, possible negative effects on future fertility, and even death.

In clinical studies using Pergonal for ovarian hyperstimulation, 2.4-5.5 percent of women developed complications. If we’re talking about 29 million women, that means at least 696,000 of them would develop complications. Over 100,000 would be classified as severe cases.

Women have also died from egg harvesting. Knowing this, most women would not consent to egg harvesting unless they felt they had no choice. These women could be described as those needing money, typically poor women, students, and/or women from developing countries. Such women are not in a position to give informed consent because their financial need impairs their ability to adequately weigh the risks involved.

Endorsing any form of legislation supporting embryonic stem cell research means putting thousands of women at risk of serious illness, disability, or even death. One would hope that an advanced and progressive country would treat its women better than that.

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Written By

Dr. Pia de Solenni is the director of life and womenâ??s issues at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

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