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Eggs and Ethics - Buying eggs is OK, Lying is not.
Reason ^ | November 25, 2005 | Ronald Bailey

Posted on 11/25/2005 3:59:54 PM PST by neverdem

Buying eggs is OK, Lying is not.

Woo-Suk Hwang, the South Korean stem cell pioneer resigned yesterday as head of the World Stem Cell Hub collaboration. The reason for his resignation is that Hwang's lab used eggs donated by two of his junior research scientists. In addition, Hwang discovered that other eggs used in the research were not donated, but had been purchased by another collaborator. In 2004, Hwang achieved the breakthrough of creating the first cloned human embryos and deriving stem cells from them. This advance is a step toward the day when researchers can create transplantable cells and tissues that would be perfectly matched to patients suffering from illnesses such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and heart attacks. When Hwang's research was published in the scientific journal Nature, he claimed that the 242 eggs he used were voluntarily donated.

This scandal could derail the creation of the World Stem Cell Hub that was announced just last month. The goal of the Hub is to produce and distribute to researchers all over the world lines of stem cells derived from cloned human embryos. Many researchers believe that cloned stem cell lines derived from genetic material from patients with various diseases will shed light on how those diseases begin and will lead eventually to treatments.

This scandal provoked the old Watergate question: What did Hwang know and when did he know it? Regarding the purchased eggs, Sung Il Roh of the Mizmedi Hospital in Seoul, who collaborated with Hwang, admitted that he bought the eggs used in the cloning research from 20 women. Roh says that Hwang did not know that he had paid for the eggs. Roh paid each woman about $1,500 for their eggs.

What about the eggs "donated" by junior researchers in Hwang's lab? At a news conference yesterday, Hwang said that the young researchers volunteered to give him their eggs a couple of times and that he had turned them down. Hwang claims that it was only earlier this year that he found out that the women had gone ahead and donated their eggs using pseudonyms. Hwang says that he denied that they had donated eggs when asked about it by Nature because he wanted to protect the privacy of the women.

However, South Korea's Health Ministry issued a report yesterday that said an investigation of Dr Hwang had found that while the eggs had come from women scientists, there was "nothing legally or ethically wrong in the donation of ova by the researchers." In January 2005, South Korea outlawed commerce in human eggs, but all of the research under consideration here took place before that law was enacted.

For the moment let's set aside the issue of the eggs from the junior scientists. What's wrong with paying women for their eggs? The usual argument trotted out by bioethicists is that poor women will be "coerced" by the lure of filthy lucre to risk fertility treatments that boost their egg production.

To obtain eggs, women take hormones that cause their ovaries to superovulate, often producing more than dozen eggs at a time. The eggs are harvested by sucking them out of the ovaries with needles inserted through the women's vaginal walls. The hormone treatments produce some unpleasant side effects and perhaps 1 in 100 women experience ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a dangerous condition in which their ovaries swell up with fluid that must be drained at a clinic.

It is only right that women should be compensated for taking these risks. And in the United States it is perfectly legal to buy human eggs. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) guidelines suggest that payments for eggs be limited to $5,000. Meanwhile, the National Academies of Science issued its own set of guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research earlier this year. The NAS eschews any payments to women for their eggs above reimbursing them for their expenses, declaring that "no cash or in kind payments should be provided for donating oocytes for research purposes."

The ASRM guidelines set the $5,000 limit on the grounds that "the higher the payment, the greater the possibility that women will discount risks." A better way of thinking about paying more for eggs is that women will decide that the risks are worth the benefits that they get from higher payments. On the one hand, ASRM guidelines manage to condescend to women—the poor dears can't be trusted to make intelligent decisions about their own bodies—while on the other hand benefitting the bottom lines of reproductive clinics by trying to keep the price of eggs low. In any case, some clinics ignore the guidelines and pay $15,000 or more for a cycle of superovulation.

Paying for eggs is not illegal in the United States and the case that it is ethically wrong is far from clear. But what about the "donations" from Hwang's junior scientists? In this case, it appears now that the egg donations were sincerely voluntary—perhaps done out of an excess of research enthusiasm on the part of Hwang's young collaborators. Apparently, Hwang did not solicit nor knowingly accept egg donations from those researchers. Unfortunately, by breaking the rules, the young researchers have put in jeopardy the work they wanted to support.

Ultimately, Hwang's ethical offense is not using purchased eggs for his research. Hwang's real scientific crime is that he lied about it. Science depends absolutely on truth-telling by researchers. The real tragedy would be if Hwang's lies end up undermining the research he has worked so hard to advance.


Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Editorial; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: District of Columbia
KEYWORDS: bioethics; hwang; hwangwoosuk; nihilism; stemcells

1 posted on 11/25/2005 3:59:55 PM PST by neverdem
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To: cpforlife.org; Coleus; Peach; Mr. Silverback; airborne; MHGinTN; Asphalt


2 posted on 11/25/2005 4:02:28 PM PST by neverdem (May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows that you're dead.)
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To: 2ndMostConservativeBrdMember; afraidfortherepublic; Alas; al_c; american colleen; annalex; ...


3 posted on 11/25/2005 4:08:42 PM PST by Coleus (Roe v. Wade and Endangered Species Act both passed in 1973, Murder Babies/save trees, birds, algae)
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To: neverdem
The real tragedy would be if Hwang's lies end up undermining the research he has worked so hard to advance. Uh, I notice that the author of this pseudo-ethics screed has handily dehumanized the embryo-aged humans being ripped apart for their body parts. How very convenient and deceit filled, to misdirect the argument upon the unethical lying about research while lying (via omission) about the fundamental ethics of the research.
4 posted on 11/25/2005 4:13:56 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote life support for others.)
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To: neverdem; little jeremiah; NYer

Moral absolutes UNGHHHHH.

This blurs the whole line between employees and chicken ranching.

No humor intended.


5 posted on 11/25/2005 4:20:47 PM PST by The Spirit Of Allegiance (SAVE THE BRAINFOREST! Boycott the RED Dead Tree Media & NUKE the DNC Class Action Temper Tantrum!)
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To: neverdem
The ASRM guidelines set the $5,000 limit on the grounds that "the higher the payment, the greater the possibility that women will discount risks."

So they paid too much? What is this - a Midas commercial?

6 posted on 11/25/2005 4:21:15 PM PST by balrog666 (A myth by any other name is still inane.)
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To: Blurblogger

I was trying to avoid this one! No fair.

I'll ping it out later, when my stomach settles down.


7 posted on 11/25/2005 4:37:48 PM PST by little jeremiah
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To: little jeremiah

I'll ping it out later, when my stomach settles down.

Boy LJ, You must not be eating right tonight:).


8 posted on 11/25/2005 4:46:04 PM PST by moog
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To: El Gato; JudyB1938; Ernest_at_the_Beach; Robert A. Cook, PE; lepton; LadyDoc; jb6; tiamat; PGalt; ..
Vitamin D and Painkiller Slow Prostate Cancer

Test will try to fend off type 1 diabetes

FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.

9 posted on 11/25/2005 4:49:06 PM PST by neverdem (May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows that you're dead.)
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To: neverdem

This is just about lying about purchasing ovarian eggs in his personal life. Everybody does it. Nothing to see here...Just move along.


10 posted on 11/25/2005 4:56:35 PM PST by Freedom_Fighter_2001 (When money is no object - it's your money they're talking about)
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To: moog

No, it's the article... makes me queasy, if you know what I mean. Yuck factor.


11 posted on 11/25/2005 5:03:29 PM PST by little jeremiah
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To: little jeremiah

No, it's the article... makes me queasy, if you know what I mean. Yuck factor.

I got the same feeling. It kind of gives new meaning to the word "nepotism."


12 posted on 11/25/2005 5:07:31 PM PST by moog
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To: neverdem

Talk about having egg on your face.


13 posted on 11/25/2005 5:29:48 PM PST by writer33 (Rush Limbaugh walks in the footsteps of giants: George Washington, Thomas Paine and Ronald Reagan.)
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To: writer33

Talk about having egg on your face.

How about putting all of your eggs in one basket?


14 posted on 11/25/2005 5:30:53 PM PST by moog
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To: moog

That sounds like a moog point.

:)


15 posted on 11/25/2005 5:31:42 PM PST by writer33 (Rush Limbaugh walks in the footsteps of giants: George Washington, Thomas Paine and Ronald Reagan.)
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To: writer33

That sounds like a moog point.

I was in that kind of moog. :)


16 posted on 11/25/2005 5:34:55 PM PST by moog
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To: moog

Stop it. You're ruining the moog.

:)


17 posted on 11/25/2005 5:36:29 PM PST by writer33 (Rush Limbaugh walks in the footsteps of giants: George Washington, Thomas Paine and Ronald Reagan.)
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To: writer33

Stop it. You're ruining the moog.

Shall I just moog on over then? It might be a smoog moog.


18 posted on 11/25/2005 5:44:48 PM PST by moog
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To: moog

You win. That one takes the cake.

:)


19 posted on 11/25/2005 5:45:32 PM PST by writer33 (Rush Limbaugh walks in the footsteps of giants: George Washington, Thomas Paine and Ronald Reagan.)
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To: writer33

You win. That one takes the cake.

Me and my big moog!


20 posted on 11/25/2005 5:48:02 PM PST by moog
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To: moog

Don't make another moog, buddy.


21 posted on 11/25/2005 5:49:17 PM PST by writer33 (Rush Limbaugh walks in the footsteps of giants: George Washington, Thomas Paine and Ronald Reagan.)
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To: writer33

Don't make another moog, buddy.

Only if you give me some money. I've a big mooger.

Sometimes I'm a shaker too--though it's not always my fault, then I just quake in my boots.


22 posted on 11/25/2005 5:51:17 PM PST by moog
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To: neverdem
In any case, some clinics ignore the guidelines and pay $15,000 or
more for a cycle of superovulation.


I suspect that they pay that much...
BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO!

Seeing how $15,000 is sort of toward the low end of what childless
couples offer for a good egg in the classified adverts
of some university student newspapers.
(e.g., UCLA)
IIRC, I think I saw one advertized offer of $50,000...
of course, that was probably with the expectation that the
donor was a Rhodes Scholar and had offers to pose in Playboy.
23 posted on 11/25/2005 5:54:55 PM PST by VOA
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To: moog

So you're saying you do put all your eggs in one basket?


24 posted on 11/25/2005 5:55:13 PM PST by writer33 (Rush Limbaugh walks in the footsteps of giants: George Washington, Thomas Paine and Ronald Reagan.)
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To: writer33

So you're saying you do put all your eggs in one basket?

Only if I'm a basket case, which is about half the time. I have to always count my chicken before they've hatched because they're not always all cracked up what they're supposed to be and I have to shell out the dough, kind of like when I put clams in my breadmixer.


25 posted on 11/25/2005 5:57:28 PM PST by moog
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To: moog

You sound moogy.


26 posted on 11/25/2005 5:58:55 PM PST by writer33 (Rush Limbaugh walks in the footsteps of giants: George Washington, Thomas Paine and Ronald Reagan.)
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To: writer33

"You sound moogy."

I've never been mooged before so I wouldn't know. But some nights do get pretty moogy here, especially on a hot summer night.


27 posted on 11/25/2005 6:00:52 PM PST by moog
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To: moog

Now we've officially mooged this thread, whether or not it's moogy where you are.


28 posted on 11/25/2005 6:03:07 PM PST by writer33 (Rush Limbaugh walks in the footsteps of giants: George Washington, Thomas Paine and Ronald Reagan.)
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To: writer33

Now we've officially mooged this thread, whether or not it's moogy where you are.

It's moogic to my ears.


29 posted on 11/25/2005 6:05:52 PM PST by moog
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To: neverdem

A tempest in a test tube.


30 posted on 11/25/2005 6:55:40 PM PST by GladesGuru (In a society predicated upon Liberty, it is essential to examine principle)
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To: Coleus

>>> Woo-Suk Hwang

Why is this guy working with human eggs when he is or was a professor of Veterinary Medicine at SNU College of Veterinarian Medicine?


31 posted on 11/25/2005 6:59:13 PM PST by Calpernia (Breederville.com)
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To: Calpernia
Re #31

He did work on cloning animals, first and then ventured out to human stem cell research.

32 posted on 11/25/2005 9:01:43 PM PST by TigerLikesRooster
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To: TigerLikesRooster

Thanks Tiger!


33 posted on 11/25/2005 9:08:11 PM PST by Calpernia (Breederville.com)
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To: balrog666
The ASRM guidelines set the $5,000 limit on the grounds that "the higher the payment, the greater the possibility that women will discount risks."

So they paid too much? What is this - a Midas commercial?

Careful, you might end up with a situation like this. Warning: Adult situations and humor.

Cheers!

34 posted on 11/25/2005 10:18:31 PM PST by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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