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Panelists discuss egg donor risks


No financial compensation is enough to make up for the potential long-term health consequences of egg donation, argued Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, a nonprofit organization dedicated to women’s health education, at a Tuesday event exploring the controversial topic.

Norsigian said that if a woman ever asked her whether or not she should go through with donating her eggs, she would say, “Don’t do it.”

This was a message repeated multiple times Tuesday night at the Bechtel International Center during a panel discussion following a screening of the film “Eggsploitation.” The film, which won Best Documentary at the 13th Annual California Independent Film Festival in 2011, aims to show the risks of commercial human egg harvesting for young women in the United States.

Fellow panelist and associate professor in anthropology Lochlann Jain emphasized the “medical and legal issues and the social dimension” of egg donating, arguing that the risks still need to be clarified for potential donors.

Given the hormone treatments required for egg harvesting and possible links with cancer, Jain said it is surprising that there “is no protocol of how to deal with subsequent injuries or problems.” She added that there is a lack of data collection regarding this issue, and discussion of the topic has a high “political valence.”

Norsigian agreed that the long-term effects of egg harvesting are “uncertain, with better tracking needed.” She said she finds it troubling that the Food and Drug Administration does not have personnel examining the problems reported by women after drug usage for egg stimulation.

The film was written and produced by Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (CBC). Lahl was previously a nurse. The CBC Network is a Northern California nonprofit that explores bioethics.

According to the CBC Network’s website, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and Arizona prohibit compensation for egg harvesting for research. These states, however, are silent on payments for in vitro fertilization (IVF) egg harvesting. Arizona was the first state to enact a law requiring certain requirements, such as informed consent health warnings, for IVF harvesting.

Egg harvesting, Norsigian said, “shouldn’t be done multiple times in a year,” and there should certainly be at least a six-month gap.

The film showed pictures of a former Stanford student, Jessica Wing, a repeated egg donor, who died at age 32. Wing’s mother, Dr. Jennifer Schneider, said in the documentary that a follow-up on egg donors should be implemented for health reasons, as well as for establishing a genetic registry for donor offspring.

The film showed testimonials of young women, including another from Stanford, who experienced health complications after undergoing egg harvesting.

Norsigian noted that if you visit “any campus in the U.S. you’ll see ads suggesting that you’d bring happiness” to others by offering eggs. Many women receive advertisements via Facebook, she added.

Audience members suggested adding warnings to egg donation advertisements, in a method similar to that used in cigarette ads, arguing that at the very least advertisements should note that the procedure is not without risks.

Panelists highlighted shortcomings of California legislation on the topic. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 1317 into law in 2009, requiring egg donor ads to reference the existence of medical risks. However, panelists said the legislation is not easily enforceable and has exemptions.

Presenters said they were concerned that the mainstream media does not accurately portray the health consequences of egg extraction. All the speakers were alarmed by the lack of peer-reviewed analyses regarding health risks of the commercial activity.

Norsigian pointed out that “lack of evidence of harm is not proof of safety.”

Audience member Marjorie Murphy Campbell, a blogger who frequently attends Stanford events at the Clayman Institute and the Hoover Institution, asked, “Are we making guinea pigs out of young women?”

Norsigian agreed with the suggestion.

Stanford students formed about a quarter of the audience, with women from San Francisco and the surrounding areas packing the rest of the conference room. Sponsors of the event included Stanford’s Office of Diversity and Leadership and the Women’s Community Center.