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Experts lead debate on egg donation for stem cell research

Should women’s health be compromised in the pursuit of scientific research, a public debate in Edinburgh will hear.

Exploring the controversial issue of egg donation for medical research, an expert panel¹ of scientists, ethicists and activists will address the public’s concerns in a ‘Question Time’ style debate this Thursday (23 November 2006).

Currently, oocytes for medical research are obtained from embryos leftover from IVF treatment and in one clinic’s case, an egg sharing arrangement². Supply doesn’t meet demand. Researchers argue a supply of freshly harvested eggs from healthy donors will lead to advances in techniques like therapeutic cloning and stem cell research which may have health benefits in the future.

In response, the UK government is making decisions³ about whether women who aren’t undergoing IVF treatment can donate eggs for research, extending egg sharing arrangements to other clinics, financial compensation for donated eggs and how potential donors can be protected from exploitation.

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Sheena Young, Infertility Network UK Regional Coordinator for Scotland, will comment that the recruitment of both egg and sperm donors is at crisis point in many parts of the UK. Here in Scotland, all IVF clinics have waiting lists of over 5 years for egg donation treatment, so although research is crucial, the greatest priority for donated gametes must be to treat those who are suffering the effects of infertility.

Diane Beeson, US women’s health activist and medical sociologist, will state that the health risks of egg extraction techniques have not been fully revealed to the public and women’s health shouldn’t be sacrificed in the pursuit of scientific stardom.

Donna Dickenson, Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics University of London will add that women who donate are not really research subjects: merely suppliers of ‘raw materials.’ The question is not whether women should be free to donate, but whether clinicians should be free to ask them.

The event is run by the Public Engagement in Stem Cell Research team, based at the University of Edinburgh. The event is also supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the ESRC Social Science Stem Cell Initiative, the ESRC Innogen Centre and the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum.

Sarah Cunningham-Burley, Professor of Medical and Family Sociology, University of Edinburgh, chairing the debate said:

‘Promoting wider discussion of egg donation for medical research will help different people have their say. We hope this event will stimulate further debate and feed into the decisions that will be made’.

Emma Capewell | alfa
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