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Calls to pay woman to give eggs for stem cell -

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PETER CAVE: A leading stem cell lawyer wants laws changed to allow scientists to pay women for
donor eggs.

Melbourne University's Professor Loane Skene says there'll be increased demand for eggs once there
is a major breakthrough in stem cell research.

And she says that harvesting the eggs is an invasive procedure for which women should be
compensated.

But some medical ethicists warn it's a path that Australia should not take.

Ashley Hall reports.

ASHLEY HALL: If you believe the hype about stem cell research, it could deliver treatments for some
of the most debilitating diseases.

There's hope the victims of spinal injuries may walk again.

Scientists think stem cells might also provide a cure for cancer and Parkinson's disease.

Loane Skene is a Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne.

LOANE SKENE: If this goes ahead, I think that scientists will want to do more embryo research.

ASHLEY HALL: And that will require more embryos.

But embryos are in short supply.

LOANE SKENE: If there is an additional payment to women for being prepared to undergo the
procedures for donating eggs, that will encourage more egg donations.

ASHLEY HALL: How would you see that payment made?

LOANE SKENE: Well people talk about them actually selling their eggs but what they're really being
paid for is the, subjecting themselves to the process of taking the drugs to produce more eggs and
then the surgical procedure for retrieving the eggs for research.

ASHLEY HALL: Generally, researchers rely on unused embryos from in vitro fertilization procedures,
as well as reprogrammed skin cells, to do their work.

Last month, New York became the first state in the US to allow researchers to pay women to give
eggs for research.

LOANE SKENE: In New York, they are talking about something like $5,000. In Australia I think it
would be less but we would have to talk about what would be appropriate in these circumstances. At
the moment, women can get their medical expenses and reasonable travelling expenses and time off
work but there isn't an amount that is paid as compensation to them just for doing the procedure.

ASHLEY HALL: For the purposes of this discussion, I've left aside the heated debate about whether
it's ethical to use embryos for research.

But Professor Skene's suggestion raises some other ethical questions.

Associate Professor Bernadette Tobin is the director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at St
Vincent's Hospital in Sydney.

BERNADETTE TOBIN: I am sure that, with respect to many organs and tissues, an argument could be put
up that a special case should be made. My view is that that really would be the thin edge of the
wedge and it would be the beginning of the commercialisation of this whole area of human activity.

So, although I can understand that and although there are, you know, we've had very great
difficulty in Australia trying to generate sufficient numbers of organs and tissues to make them
available for transplantation, we've got real problems there, but I wouldn't go the
commercialisation route.

ASHLEY HALL: And Bernadette Tobin says Australia should look to the experience of other countries
before it considers allowing payment for human tissue.

BERNADETTE TOBIN: When you look at the sociology and the demographics of who gets the organ and
tissues and who supplies them, it tends to be the case that it is poor people supplying them and
affluent and rich people getting them.

ASHLEY HALL: Professor Skene says there's a clear difference between blood and organ donations, and
the giving of eggs.

LOANE SKENE: It is true we don't pay for blood and you might say that this is the first step to a
market in blood but we find that people are quite happy to give blood because it is such a minor
invasion of the body to give blood but egg donations are different because it does require an
operation.

ASHLEY HALL: And she says any payment would only be for eggs given for research purposes, and
scientists would have to follow strict protocols to make sure there's no exploitation.

LOANE SKENE: I think that we have the means through our ethics committee structure to set limits on
who is allowed to donate eggs and the circumstances in which they are recruited and the way that
they are treated.

PETER CAVE: Loane Skene, a Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne, ending Ashley Hall's
report.