A leading bioethicist, Dr Insoo Hyun of Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, US, has called for women to be paid to donate eggs for stem cell research on the same basis that research participants are compensated for taking part in other medical research. In a Nature commentary Dr Hyun argues that 'compensation offers a reasonable way to acknowledge women's efforts by rightly embracing oocyte providers as healthy research volunteers' (see 'recommends').
Scientists wishing to perfect the cloning technique known as SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) require a supply of fresh human eggs - this research is thought to have great medical potential but is stuck in the early stages due to the limited supply of donated eggs. It was reported last week that scientists working at the North East England Stem Cell Institute at Newcastle University, UK, have been given the go-ahead to use an 'egg-sharing' technique in order to increase the supply of eggs available for research. In the egg-sharing protocol scientists will make a payment toward the cost of IVF treatment in return for a number of eggs to be donated. Guidelines regarding compensation for egg donation differ around the world.
The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) is considering compensation as one issue in its larger attempt to frame international stem cell guidelines. Stem cell scientists believe that international guidelines would be beneficial so that material could be shared without the danger of transgressing local rules. A task force from the society, involving members from different disciplines and 14 countries, was convened last year after Korean stem cell researcher Woo Suk Hwang admitted fraud in his reports of stem cell successes.
In the draft guidelines released in June, the ISSCR taskforce left the question of compensation open-ended due to sharp disagreements within the group. The guidelines are open to public comment until 1 September 2006. Donating oocytes (eggs) for research is associated with a number of risks, and the long term effects remain unknown. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK has announced a public consultation on the issue of payment for egg donation, which will take place between September and November 2006.