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Human egg trade exploits women

  • 31 July 2009

The call by law professor Loane Skene (writing in The Age on 13 July) for women to sell their eggs for embryonic stem cell research ignores the medical evidence of the real harm done to women who allow their eggs to be harvested, and international evidence that the legalisation of the sale of eggs leads to exploitation of women.

Harvesting eggs is a complicated process. There are drugs to stop the menstrual cycle, daily hormone injections for up to six weeks to stimulate the development of multiple eggs, frequent blood tests to check when the eggs are ready, a general anaesthetic and surgery to retrieve the eggs using a needle inserted into the ovaries.

Because of the powerful drugs, one of the main dangers for the woman is Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which has mild, moderate and severe forms and which affects up to ten per cent of women.

Mild symptoms of OHSS include hot flushes, bloating, moodiness, headaches, weight gain and tiredness. Severe health threats include kidney failure, stroke, future infertility and even death.

In 2005, a number of young Romanian women were paid to sell their eggs to fertility clinics in the UK. One of them was Alina Netedu, who worked at a mattress factory in Bucharest and wanted money for her wedding. She was paid about AUD$300 for 20 of her eggs. Shortly after the harvest, she developed OHSS and was hospitalised for 14 days. Her doctor said she would have died if she had not sought immediate help.

In August 2006, a 37-year-old British woman named Nita Solanki did die after her eggs were retrieved for IVF. The cause of her death was internal bleeding and kidney failure.

Nine years ago in the United States, 22-year-old Stanford University student Calla Papademus agreed to sell her eggs to pay for her college tuition. She suffered a stroke and, while she eventually recovered, was in and out of a coma for eight weeks.

If trade in human eggs is legalised in Australia, there will inevitably be some women who suffer these serious consequences. No one should take these risks simply for a few thousand dollars.

When the plight of the young Romanian women came to light, the European Parliament recognised this as exploitation of vulnerable women. Therefore, on 10 March 2005, they overwhelmingly adopted a resolution to ban trade in human egg cells in the European Union.