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Cloning and women

by
3/18/2005

A widely overlooked, yet very serious consequence of Senate Bill 25 is that it will place the health of women at risk and will encourage their exploitation.

The bill promotes stem-cell research and “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” a procedure used to create cloned human embryos. The process of cloning replaces the nucleus of an ovum, or human female egg, with the nucleus of an adult cell. Those eggs can only be obtained from women who are subjected to a risky medical procedure.

A recent opinion piece in the Boston Globe by Judy Norsigian, states that “thousands of women … will need to undergo egg extraction procedures for such embryo cloning.” She cites as a primary concern “the substantial risks to women’s health posed by the extraction procedure.”

Norsigian is not a pro-life activist. She is the well-known executive director of the organization Our Bodies Ourselves, a women’s health education, advocacy and consulting group that favors abortion and embryonic stem-cell research — yet opposes cloning.

In her column, Norsigian quotes the former chief medical officer of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Suzanne Parisian, saying that many of the drugs used to induce egg production “have not been adequately studied for long-term safety, nor do some of these drugs have FDA approval for these specific indications. This is not widely understood and has led to significant misunderstanding about the risks involved for women who donate eggs.”

For every successfully cloned embryo, hundreds of attempts will fail, each requiring a donated egg. In the effort that resulted in the cloning of the first adult mammal, Dolly the sheep, 277 eggs were required before a successful result was achieved. With Senate Bill 25 are we opening the door to a new kind of economic exploitation of women: One in which women would repeatedly subject themselves to a risky medical procedure to donate eggs for a fee?

Some fear that poor women, in the U.S. but mostly in third world countries, will turn to “donating” their eggs to provide much needed income. That was among the key concerns expressed in the March 9 United Nations resolution that called for the banning of all forms of human cloning. The resolution reads: “Member States are called upon to ensure that, in the application of life science, human dignity is respected in all circumstances and, in particular, that women are not exploited.”

Our very human nature tells us that destruction of human life for the purpose of experimentation is wrong. Senate Bill 25 should not pass and our legislators should be urged to oppose it. We are encouraged to learn that Catholics are discussing this issue in their parishes and speaking to their fellow parishioners who are also state legislators. They need to know that even if cloning could someday help people, getting there could hurt many more — especially women.