Bioethics Advisory Committee seeks public feedback on the donation of human eggs for research
Release of a public Consultation Paper by the BAC
The Bioethics Advisory Committee (BAC) announces the release of a public Consultation Paper entitled “Donation of Human Eggs for Research”. The Paper raises issues related to the provision of human eggs for purposes of research, especially research into embryonic stem cells.
The Consultation Paper is part of BAC’s longer term intention to consolidate its views and recommendations in the area of human embryonic stem cell research. The BAC considers such research to be important in contributing to our understanding the nature and potential of stem cells, and this understanding is generally viewed as the key to unlocking the vast potential of stem cell therapy for serious and currently untreatable diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
The availability of human eggs has become a key limiting factor in embryonic stem cell research. Most eggs used in research are currently obtained from women undergoing fertility treatment. However, the number of eggs that can be obtained from such donors will remain small because the eggs are needed for fertility treatments, and such treatments enjoy priority among both physicians and donors.
In principle, there is no reason why scientists may not obtain eggs from a healthy woman (who need not be undergoing fertility treatment) if she has made a free and informed decision to contribute her eggs for research. However, the invasive nature of the procedures for obtaining eggs, and the health risk entailed, present ethical concerns.
The main objective of the Consultation Paper is to consider the ethical, legal and social issues that relate to the donation of human eggs for research. To that end, the BAC seeks the views of researchers, professionals, religious bodies, interested organisations and the general public on:
- Whether healthy women not undergoing fertility treatment should be allowed to donate eggs for research, and if so under what conditions;
- Whether egg donors for research should be compensated for time, inconvenience and risk, and if so, what type of compensation or monetary amount would be acceptable, and not amount to an inducement;
- Whether there are circumstances in which the compensation for eggs could amount to a sale and if so whether such a sale should ever be contemplated;
- Any prohibitions, limits or regulatory mechanisms that should govern the supply and use of human eggs for research in Singapore; and
- Any other matters related to the donation of eggs for research.
A principal concern identified in the Consultation Paper relates to the fair treatment of a woman who decides to contribute her eggs for research. There is an overriding concern that human eggs must not be treated as a saleable commodity, although reasonable payment appears to be necessary so that a donor is not made worse off by her altruistic giving. It is necessary to consider how to draw a line between providing reasonable payment to donors and inducing women to provide eggs for monetary gain. There is a need to ensure that this distinction is socially acceptable and not exploitative or divisive. Furthermore, globalisation has a bearing on what might be considered as reasonable compensation for egg provision, since what would count as an inducement depends on the cost of living.
Professor Lim Pin, Chairman of the BAC, says: “We recognise the need to respect the reproductive autonomy of women, which includes decisions about what to do with her eggs. However, there is a responsibility to ensure that women are not exploited. Some level of regulatory oversight may be necessary to advance both interests.”
The BAC continues to emphasise the importance of effective consent procedures, which also entails avoiding conflicts of interest and ensuring that donors are aware of the risks in making a donation. Professor Lee Eng Hin, Chairman of the Human Embryo and Chimera Working Group, adds: “The issue of payment in this Consultation Paper does not detract from the fact that there are already regulatory guidelines in place to ensure that any contribution of eggs by a woman is made voluntarily and with informed choice. We need to consider the sort of payment that is ethically acceptable in view of the increasing interest in embryonic stem cell research.”
The views of the public and interested parties will assist the BAC in formulating recommendations on the donation of human eggs for research. Those interested in providing their views could obtain a copy of the Consultation Paper here, and send their responses by 7 January 2008 via:
Bioethics Advisory Committee
11 Biopolis Way
Members of the public are also invited to: participate in an online discussion forum here; and attend a public talk on 22 November, 2007, to discuss the issues presented in the Consultation Paper. More information is available here.
About the BAC
The BAC was established by the Government in December 2000 to address the ethical, legal and social issues arising from human biomedical research and its applications. It develops and recommends policies on these issues, with the aim of protecting the rights and welfare of individuals, while allowing the biomedical sciences to develop and realise its full potential for the benefit of mankind.