California Bill Would Lift Ban on Paying Women for Eggs Used in Research

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By Elaine Korry, KQED

Human egg in a follicle. (Ivor Mason, KCL, Wellcome Images via Flickr)
Human egg in a follicle. (Ivor Mason, KCL, Wellcome Images via Flickr)

A bill awaiting Gov. Brown's signature would end a decade-old disparity in California law regarding egg donation. Under current law, it is legal to pay a woman who provides her eggs, called oocytes, to a couple going through in-vitro fertilization. But there is a ban on paying the same woman for the same eggs if they are to be used in medical research.

AB 926, a bill by Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla (D-Concord), would lift that ban on payment for research oocytes. Bonilla said the bill will create equity in the field of medical research compensation. "This is the only research procedure that does not compensate," said Bonilla. "As a result of that, a lot of very important research, particularly around women's fertility, just has not taken place here in California."

Fertility research resulted in cancer survivor Alice Crisci holding on to her dream of motherhood. Crisci's "miracle boy," as she calls him, is due Oct. 4, five years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At age 31, facing chemotherapy, Crisci had her own eggs preserved. She underwent ovarian stimulation, which involved weeks of hormone injections -- to increase the number of follicles she produced -- followed by a procedure to retrieve the eggs.

But without an economic incentive, few women have lined up to donate their eggs to science. "We certainly do not attract funding to our state for this type of research because without compensation it has been amply proven that we will not be able to recruit donors," said Crisci.


AB 926 would permit women who become research donors to be paid up to $5,000. By comparison, an infertile couple in California can pay an unlimited amount to obtain donor eggs for IVF treatments.

Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine are among the supporters of Bonilla's bill. Opponents of stem cell research, such as the California Catholic Conference, are against the measure.

But some women's healthcare advocates are also opposed to AB 926. "There has been no long-term or short-term follow-up on the women who are egg providers," said Diane Tober, the associate director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley. "Women who provide eggs are typically treated more like a vendor than an actual patient," she said. "She's there, she provides her eggs, and then she's shuttled out the door."

Ovarian stimulation and oocyte retrieval can involve risks, which are spelled out in the consent form that egg donors must sign. Former donor Sindy Wei, said she was prepared for side effects from the hormones she injected, but not for a nicked artery. "The day of my retrieval they induced some bleeding during the process, and as a result I ended up having emergency surgery to fix that," said Wei. She said the doctors dismissed her bleeding until it became an emergency.

Of course, complications may occur in many kinds of clinical research, yet lawmakers have not banned compensation for participating in those studies. Supporters of AB 926 said the same informed consent guidelines that govern other clinical research studies will provide ample protection for research egg donors as well.

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