The Alliance for Humane Biotechnology, an SF State organization comprised of roughly 20 scholars, students and activists, has experienced a small success in the fight to require disclaimers on egg donor advertisements.
Assembly Bill 1317, approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this past October, requires advertisements seeking female egg donors to include a warning that there are potential risks associated with human egg donation, that the long-term effects have not been determined and to advise consultation with a reproductive care specialist prior to entering into a donor contract.
"We want to see the quality of informed consent improve," said co-founder of AHB and professor of medical sociology at CSU East Bay Diane Beeson. "Nobody has a market incentive in understanding risks to women's health. Who is going to raise these questions?"
Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, advertisements seeking to compensate female egg donors, which can be found posted around college campuses and in school newspapers, will be required to include a warning, as stated in AB 1317.
According to AHB co-founder Tina Stevens, the struggle is not over. AB 1317 contains an exemption that states that those registered with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine do not have to provide a warning on their advertisements. Lobbyists for ASRM say their guidelines are adequate protection for potential egg donors.
"It's important to understand that we're not against in vitro fertilization and stem cell research," Stevens said. "It's not about shutting down the industry. It's about humane and safe biotechnology."
"Where women are under more financial pressure, they're more likely to be seduced by ads that fail to inform them of risk, offers them money and appeals to their altruism," said Beeson, referring to an egg donor advertisement that shows young women with angel wings.
The egg harvesting process begins with ovarian stimulation involving repeated injections of powerful hormones over the course of about four weeks so the woman can produce, on average, one to two dozen eggs, which is more than can be naturally produced. This is followed by a painful extraction of the eggs that requires anesthesia.
The short-term risks for egg harvesting include ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome. Severe OHSS cases include blood clots, kidney failure, and hemorrhaging from ovarian rupture.
"Many women have no clue that their ovaries would be hyperstimulated," said Stevens, who has taught United States history at SF State and is a historian in bioethics and biotechnology. "Before realizing this, you've already spent the money in your head, and during times of economic recession, the case could be made that in some instances the ads could be predatory."
"Students are making decisions, without sufficient information, that may affect their health and well-being -- now but also in the future. We have a well-documented long, ugly history of science and medicine experimenting on the bodies of women, the poor, working class, people of color and other vulnerable groups in the U.S. but also globally," said Sheila Tully, lecturer at SF State of anthropology, labor studies and human sexuality studies.
"Without exception, students' reason for considering this was financial. None of these students had any idea that the harvesting procedure might be dangerous," said Tully of some of her students she engaged in discussion on egg harvesting with.