Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Hen Houses

This issue is no longer particularly fresh news, but I'm going to go back to it now anyhow....

About 3 months ago, we got the big news that researchers in South Korea had succeeded in creating cloned human embryos, and the story re-ignited the debate here over the use of embryos to "harvest" stem cells for research, and (theoretically) eventually also for therapeutic purposes. We had the usual crowd of pro-unborn-life people arguing against "creating a human life just to destroy it" and the pro-born-life people (by which I mean the people whose greater concern is with the already-born) getting very excited about potential treatments for Parkinson's and Alzheimers. I am going to leave this part of the discussion to those two camps.

What struck me about this news (and after doing a quick Google search on this, I think my initial impression is confirmed) is that in all the stories that described this great scientific breakthrough and talked about how perhaps some day it could be used as a "human repair kit", no one ever talked about where all the donor eggs were going to come from. At least as it is currently done, each attempt at cloning requires quite a large number of donated human eggs. Indeed, in order to create 30 viable embryos, the South Korean researchers started with 242 eggs from 16 "unpaid volunteers". (The scientists said one reason their cloning worked where others' attempts had failed was that they had "extremely fresh eggs.") For therapeutic cloning of stem cells to treat Parkinson's, Alzheimers, or other diseases to become a real treatment option, we would be talking about a need for a very large number, and a steady supply, of human donor eggs. This is different from some of the earlier talk about developing stem cell "lines" that could somehow be kept going in the lab. The whole point of therapeutic cloning is that it is done using the genetic material of the person who is sick in order to prevent rejection of the tissue grown from the stem cells. So each time you wanted to administer this treatment, you would need multiple human eggs.

Maybe you begin to see where I'm going with this. Human egg donation requires a number of invasive procedures. Usually women who are donors receive hormones over a period of time so that when they ovulate they will produce more than one egg at a time. Taking the hormones can itself be an unpleasant experience. Then the removal of the eggs is also an invasive and, as I understand it, not particularly pleasant procedure. Unlike sperm donation, there are not large numbers of women who have so far voluntarily undergone this procedure for the benefit of strangers--we don't have egg banks in the way we have sperm banks. [I realize that some people do donate eggs, but it's far less common.] So my question is, where do these researchers who are imagining a utopia of "human repair kits" think all the eggs are going to come from? Where is the provision of eggs for this purpose going to fall on the scale from donating blood to donating organs? Are women going to be paid directly for eggs, or otherwise compensated for the discomfort and potential health risk? Are poor women, here or abroad, going to end up as egg producers to treat rich Americans with Parkinson's? Why does the issue of where human eggs come from [human women] end up being completely glossed over by the researchers (and others) who talk about this?


At 6:53 AM, Blogger Goesh said...

Very interesting commentary, though no doubt rich Europeans, Asians and Arabs would take advantage of this service as well. In light of the serious economic discrepancies that women endure, egg donors will not be afforded the prestige of blood donors. That is my hunch, but I think I am correct. Donate some blood and everybody says, " oh, that's nice - good going". Donate an egg and people will say " ohhh", and nothing more. Overcoming the woman-as-property syndrome has a long, long ways to go, all over the planet.

I've often wondered why the forces of feminism have not been more directed at unionizing wowen. I see female clerical workers everywhere, laboring for low pay and terrible benefits - medical offices in particular can be real sweat shops. A United Clerical Workers Union could make the Teamsters look wimpy, given the numbers and potential clout such a union could have. To my way of thinking, it is the only way to finally end the woman-as-property syndrome, at least in the West.

Don't aim for the gonads, aim for the wallet. Look at how the Southern Poverty Law Center has almost completely knocked the kkk out of action. It wasn't by raising awareness and slinging moral platitudes around - they attacked the wallet, not the mind set.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Goesh said...

"Necessary Dreams" - Ambition in Women's Changing lives by Anna Fels :

I just read the critique of this book in Slate/MSN. Given the backdrop of Anna Fels as a practicing New York Psychiatrist, quite possibly her clinical perecptions and observations are limited to her clientele and the class of people who can afford to visit Psychiatrists - either directly paying or from benefits accompanying a decent job. No doubt she is well read with significant life experience and highly educated, and I am not about to comment on a book that I have not yet read.

I do wonder though when work dynamics are universally applied to all women, and men for that matter. Ambiton is like the proverbial box of chocolates, messy in the hands of Forestine and Forest Gump both. Are the ambitions of Rosie the Riveter running paralell to white collar workers? I don't have an answer, but what if the gender polarity is not as distinct as alluded to in the critique of Anna Fels book ,when income is a static element of the equation? Secondly, Susie the hash slinger/waitress working in tens of thousands of greasey spoons across the nation may view ambition differently, as maybe would countless female day care workers and assembly type workers who do not visit Psychiatrists office's. Again, I do not know.

"Gender recognition differential" is an interesting phrase, followed by this statement in the critique, " men routinely expect their goals and achievements to be valued..." Do we now? Sounds a tad bit 'campy' if you ask me.

The author of the critique goes on to state, "Fels says it flat out: " " The mandate that females provide recognition to males is a basic requirement of the white, middle class notion of femininity"". I thought the myth of the angry WASP male had been deflated? Sustaining an adversarial polarity is hard work - the body count must he maintained constantly, victims celebrated and remembered, and it is the biggest obstacle to critical thought we face.

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