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Veto, Governor Brown!

Wesley J. Smith keeps us informed on the progress of the culture of death and human exploitation. California's legislature has passed AB 926, which legalizes the direct purchase of human eggs from women.

Human eggs, as Smith has repeatedly pointed out, are ounce for ounce probably the most valuable commodity in the world right now. Biotech companies urgently want them for cloning and other embryonic experimentation, and of course IVF clinics want "high-quality" eggs in order to make human embryos for their clients. I wrote here about the direct selling of human embryos that some IVF clinics are now engaging in.

Problem is, the hyperovulation and harvesting process is unpleasant for women and can even be dangerous, so it's difficult for the vultures and body-sellers to get "enough" eggs for their purposes. Previously California has prohibited the payment of sums of money in excess of a woman's actual expenses for the egg-harvesting process. A.B. 926 would change that and allow outright buying and selling of human eggs.

In case anyone thinks that my advocacy of the free market means that I think everything is buy-able and sell-able, let me correct that impression at once. There are things that simply should not be bought or sold at all. Human eggs are among them. So are human beings.

Which brings me to this part of Smith's report:

Enter AB 926, which will legalize egg selling for biotech research–as well as purchase and sale of human embryos, e.g., nascent human trafficking.

On this subject, I find the California legislature's discussion of the bill somewhat confusing.

There are quite a few mentions of embryos, but I can't figure out who is getting paid for them. For example:

Existing law prohibits human oocytes or embryos from being acquired, sold, offered for sale, received, or otherwise transferred for valuable consideration for medical research or otherwise transferred for valuable consideration for medical research or development of medical therapies, and prohibits payment in excess of the amount of reimbursement of direct expenses to be made to any research subject to encourage her to produce human oocytes for the purposes of medical research.

This bill would instead require women providing human oocytes for research to be compensated for their time, trouble, and inconvenience in the same manner as other research subjects, as prescribed. The bill would require an institutional review board to disregard the amount of compensation if a woman providing human oocytes for fertility is compensated, human oocytes or embryos in excess of those needed for fertility are offered for research, and certain conditions are met.

That seems to indicate that this would change existing law about selling both eggs and embryos. Yet the only person whom it says can be "compensated" is a woman who is offering eggs that will be used for making embryos. Other references to embryos are similar.

The current ban on compensation for women providing human oocytes for research was created due to concerns regarding the high volume of oocytes needed for embryonic stem cell research, but extends to all research. Without compensation, few women participate in research, creating barriers to reproductive research that could benefit all women. As an example, more research could be done on embryo quality so that women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) can confidently choose to have a single embryo implanted with a high probability of achieving a successful pregnancy, instead of multiple embryos. Lowering the rate of multiple pregnancies in IVF is a high priority goal that benefits women, parents, the resulting children, and society. The best source of available embryos for research comes from embryos created for fertility using a compensated donor, as she is more likely to produce a higher volume of oocytes and excess viable embryos than the infertile woman. Due to the ban on compensation, oocytes and embryos not needed for fertility will be unsuitable for research and will likely be discarded.

So does that mean that after the embryos are created they can be bought and sold for "compensation" as well, or does it mean only that the women will be "compensated" for their eggs so that larger numbers of "high-quality" eggs can be obtained leading to "higher-quality" embryos for research and IVF?

I can't really figure that all out, but of course the law is odious on multiple levels. The rationale for directly purchasing women's eggs is, inter alia, that this will produce better embryos which can then be usefully destroyed in research! It would be such a terrible waste if the embryos were simply discarded rather than being thriftily used for (destructive) research.

Right now, Smith reports, the only thing that stands in the way of this law in California is the possibility of a governor's veto. Let's hope Brown does the right thing.

P.S. I don't know if anyone remembers when some pro-lifers, most notably William Hurlbut, were pressing for something called ANT-OAR to produce embryonic stem-cells. The idea was to engage in a cloning-like process using a human egg but to alter the DNA of the skin cell so as to make sure that the resulting...entity, shall we call it, never had the biological, organismal properties identifiable in an embryo. In other words, supposedly everything would be so altered in advance that the cloning-like process would literally not produce an embryo, only a mass of embryonic stem cells. Such was the theory. Now, apart from the fact that it was quite dubious as to whether this would actually work as intended rather than producing merely damaged embryos (I had one advocate of the process admit to me that "we don't really know" what sort of entities would be produced), and aside from the fact that iPSCs have now made this whole concept moot, there is this small matter of eggs. For ANT-OAR would require the harvesting and (mis)use of women's eggs just as much as ordinary cloning. Thus, had it been successful, it would have fueled the drive for human egg buying and selling. That by itself should render it ethically off limits.

Comments (20)

"Human eggs are among them. So are human beings."

Human eggs are human beings, admittedly at a very low level of development. Are we returning to a new kind of slavery? Slavery in the 1800's was nothing more the buying and selling of human beings and this is nothing more than that.

Actually, I meant unfertilized human eggs. What I meant to say is that both unfertilized human eggs and human beings from fertilization on are entities that should never be sold and bought.

Not to mention that it uses women as objects. That shouldn't surprise us, the radicals who are taking over are more misogynistic than the conservatives they demonize (more racist, too--they used the civil rights movement and largely created the "women's liberation" movement to cynically manipulate the public).

Of course, they use these women for the benefit of wealthier women...and congratulate themselves on their virtue and allegiance to progressive capitalistic modernity.

And ironically, a woman who is terminal and wants to sell her organs to a rich person to fund her estate for her family still cannot do so in California. That's bad and exploitive. Turning potential human lives into biotech fodder, dat's science baby!

congratulate themselves on their virtue and allegiance to progressive capitalistic modernity.

Actually, I doubt that it's thought of in those terms. Instead, it's virtuous allegiance to Science, very much with a capital S.

I do agree that this involves using women as objects and allowing them to sell parts of their bodies. Of course, leftists have no real moral grounding from which to resist this. It's difficult to see, for example, why on an "I own my own body and can do whatever the heck I want with it" view one shouldn't be able to sell oneself into perpetual slavery.

I do agree that this involves using women as objects and allowing them to sell parts of their bodies.

Language like this serves to tacitly absolve those women of whatever moral culpability they should face if they choose this sort of action. The idea that someone else is "using these women" implies these women are being manipulated even coerced into something against their better judgement when most such women will be fully cooperating in this of their own free will motivated by greed.

The left is already quite guilty of this in other areas such as their habit of saying that whenever a woman suffers consequences for acting on her personal autonomy, it's blaming the victim. To them, and indeed many conservatives, women are like an ethical schrodinger's cat who is simultaneously a full rights-endowed being and moral child. Whichever one she may be at a given time is unknowable until her action reveals her current state. When she acts politically, she's a full adult entitled to equal rights with men. When she does something we don't approve or which she finds lamentable, we reduce her to the status of a child--incapable of being told to bear the consequences.

I also don't think it's constructive to call this an act of a woman selling off pieces of her. By calling them part of her, we're giving some rhetorical land back to the pro-choice crowd since they'd take it as a concession on terms.

Whoa, we're talking (I repeat) about unfertilized eggs. An unfertilized egg is a cell of the woman's body. It's a gamete. I'm extremely careful about terms and am not conceding an inch of ground terminologically. Selling unfertilized eggs is selling parts of one's own body. Which shouldn't be allowed.

As I said in the post, though WJS says that the new law legalizes selling fertilized embryos, I can't get this clear from the legislative language itself. It hints that it is changing the law on that, but the only person mentioned to receive compensation is the woman selling the unfertilized eggs. Since the embryos would be created in the lab thereafter, in order for the embryos to be trafficked, someone else would have to be able to sell them--the lab or the fertility clinic, for example. That just isn't mentioned.

As far as treating the women as less than fully responsible beings, that raises the entire issue of exploitation and whether, when one alleges that exploitation is occurring, one is treating the person being exploited as a full moral being. This needn't be a gender issue. For example, suppose we say (with some plausibility) that an impoverished Indian man who sells his kidney to a Westerner is being exploited. He's a man, but the issue still arises. Pretty much any time one says, "So-and-so is being exploited" this whole question comes up: Am I therefore not blaming so-and-so if what he's doing is also wrong? There certainly is some notion of mitigation involved in the term "exploitation," but how much mitigation one intends will vary a lot. For example, it will vary with the degree of desperation or financial hardship the exploited person was in when making the decision. It will vary with whether any kind of arm-twisting techniques were applied by others. And so forth.

It occurs to me that perhaps, in addition to legalizing selling unfertilized eggs, the law is also legalizing this: A woman would have embryos made for her own fertility treatment and then would be allowed to sell the "extra" embryos thereafter for research or for other people's fertility treatments. I would think that in some cases there the fertility clinics (and the law) would regard the embryos as the property of the father as well, though, so that gets complicated. As I say, I can't find clear statements in the legal language about how or whether embryos can actually be sold. Of course, it should go without saying that I would never refer to an embryo as a part of a woman's body, though. In my previous comment I was speaking of the unfertilized egg aspect of the law, which is clear.

As far as treating the women as less than fully responsible beings, that raises the entire issue of exploitation and whether, when one alleges that exploitation is occurring, one is treating the person being exploited as a full moral being. This needn't be a gender issue.

In general, it is. The left practically assumes that whenever a woman complains about an undesirable consequence arising from her personal autonomy that exploitation or victimization was involved. Hence the vitriol directed at Serena Williams for her remarks about being drunk around men you don't know.

For example, suppose we say (with some plausibility) that an impoverished Indian man who sells his kidney to a Westerner is being exploited.

Suppose he sells his kidney for a few million dollars? It is a serious stretch of the concept of exploitation to say that it is exploitive to offer a man stuck in absolute poverty that will likely kill him well before "his time" enough money to buy himself a life of health and luxury for the cost of an organ his body doesn't even need to survive. At best you could say that his position of contractual consideration is initially weaker, but that doesn't say much when the offer is sufficiently generous.

I would think that in some cases there the fertility clinics (and the law) would regard the embryos as the property of the father as well, though, so that gets complicated.

I have a feeling that this would not be so. Courts have already established that if a woman takes a used condom and injects the contents into her, the man is still on the hook for child support even though her process of becoming pregnant was a form of artificial insemination. That it occurred as an act of deception without the father's consent has been ruled immaterial every time it's come up. I think they would lean on something equivalent here by saying that the moment he "gave her his sperm" he lost consent over its use.

Mike, I cannot understand how those rulings could be conformed to any sort of rational standard, but even so: the courts could easily distinguish between sperm dispersed within an act of sex with the woman, and sperm collected in a laboratory where no intimacy with the woman was involved. Technically, in the latter arrangement the lab / clinic should spell out the guy's contractual rights, and that's all he should have, contractual rights. But on the same basis, there should be no claim on him (or by him) with respect to fatherhood of any child, not merely on the basis of his donated sperm at the lab. Which, of course, is one of the inherent problems of IVF: you can produce a child with no "father" in the social sense.

I also don't think it's constructive to call this an act of a woman selling off pieces of her. By calling them part of her, we're giving some rhetorical land back to the pro-choice crowd since they'd take it as a concession on terms.

It seems to me that there is no doubt that the egg cells are part of the woman before she ovulates. Later on, it becomes a little murky.

There is a certain similarity to selling unfertilized eggs and selling blood. In both cases, new or other units will become available for use in the body in a short time. However, there are 2 distinct ways in which they are NOT alike: in the case of blood, it is indefinitely renewable, because the body makes more. In the case of eggs, it is not indefinitely renewable, there are a finite number and the body makes no more. Secondly, with blood the body uses the cells to carry out the body's own processes of life and function. With eggs, the body "uses" them to produce a new genetically distinct being which will, over the course of 9 months, become not only genetically and ontologically distinct but functionally independent. So the normal "use" is, inherently, "about" something distinct from the woman own body. So in a sense the egg cell's function is "to become a different being."

We moderns don't like to be unable to identify the exact moment when a change like "part of woman's body" to "not part of woman's body" takes place, but in reality it occurs through a process and therefore occurs over time. The steps from the initiation of the release of the egg, up through the conception of the child (or discharge out of the body), are the time-consuming process of the egg ceasing to be, simply, "part of" the woman.

So, if a lab were to harvest her naturally released egg from natural ovulation, harvesting just before it was going to be expelled from the body naturally, the answer to the question "did they harvest a part of her body" can quite legitimately be different from their harvesting the egg immediately upon natural release from the ovaries, which would again be different from their harvesting an egg whose release from the ovary was induced artificially. The latter almost certainly should be called "harvesting a part of the body". I can live with saying the first one, harvesting immediately before it was about to be expelled naturally, is not

"harvesting a part of the body."

But even if a person accepts that characterization, that still doesn't speak to whether the act (harvesting - for profit - a naturally released egg just before it is expelled, which is not the usual procedure) is morally sound. It only says that it isn't immoral on the basis of "harvesting" itself. It could still be immoral for other reasons. One of them might be that selling the living former parts of the body (including blood) still turns the body into a commodity and should not be done even if it is marketable and is not "harvesting." It is one thing to sell hair and nails that are dead cells, another thing entirely to sell blood. Reasonable arguments have been made that selling blood is morally objectionable, even though (almost) nobody has a problem with donating blood as a moral issue. Same goes, only much more so, for selling a kidney: the fact that there is a sense in which a person might be "better off" with one kidney and a $million doesn't quell all moral concerns. A woman could be arguably "better off" (in an a-moral sense) by selling her body for sex for one night and earn a $million than to remain a virgin, but for sure we don't think that morality is OK with such an analysis.

There is an underlying moral standard that speaks to changing the body: it is immoral to maim, or to even gravely change, a normally functioning ? organ of the body. (The ? stands for, variously, depending on the source: major, essential, standard). It is not immoral to get pierced ears, which leaves the ear nearly in the same state and modifies its function not at all. It is immoral to remove normally functioning ovaries even though the body can get by without them. There is open debate about removing a healthy kidney, which is both major and essential in one sense and not essential in another sense.

I have a feeling that this would not be so.

Mike, I know that there is at least one court precedent (it was in Tennessee about 20 years ago, but I don't have time to look it up) that shows you wrong. A husband didn't want some embryos implanted after a divorce and the court held that he had a right not to "become a father" against his will and that the embryos were property and couldn't be implanted against his will. (Of course, he already was a father, but the court precedent spit in the face of that biological fact.) The sheer fact that unimplanted embryos are legally _property_ is part of the problem. Of course they shouldn't be.

My only real question here is whether this new law allows _somebody_ to sell embryos for profit and, if so, who. It's rather surprising how unclear it is on that matter.

As for the Indian man, yeah, fine and good, you don't agree with the use of the word "exploit" if the price is high enough. I certainly think it's still _wrong_ for the kidney to be bought and sold and am inclined to think the word "exploit" still applies given the previous poverty of the kidney donor. But those questions and debates have nothing to do with gender. Let's please stick to some issue other than "women are treated by a double standard" or whatever. Sheesh.

Tony, I think we need to distinguish the rather boring question of an egg's becoming "not part of a woman's body" because it is _released_ and/or separated from her body from the far more important issue of an egg's becoming "not part of a woman's body" because it is fertilized. The latter is definitely a sharp, bright line and matters a great deal. The former, not so much. The vast majority of eggs that a woman releases are not fertilized. They cease to be part of her body by being in the end naturally entirely separated from her body. A few (comparatively) of her eggs are fertilized, at which point the egg ceases to exist altogether and a new human being comes into existence.

As to the more boring question, being released from the ovary is of course different from leaving the body altogether. In egg harvesting, the woman takes drugs to cause her to hyperovulate--in other words, to cause more eggs than normal to develop to the point of being released from the ovaries. Then a minor surgical procedure is done that removes the many eggs from her body altogether, presumably at a point where they are still readily find-able, though I don't know the details beyond that.

I don't myself think at all that whether the eggs should be bought and sold has to do with exactly where and how they were removed from her body. It has rather to do with whether human eggs are the kind of thing that should be a product for sale. (Or human sperm, for that matter.)

Let's please stick to some issue other than "women are treated by a double standard" or whatever. Sheesh.

That's not the point at all here. Rather it is the tendency to come up with lame excuses and arguments like "objectifying women" when "using the woman as an object" is nothing more than left-wing claptrap here. The issue of selling ova, embryos, etc. should stand on its own without getting into infantilizing arguments like "this law will treat women as objects." The effect on women is virtually immaterial here to the morality of what is being done since women will be doing this of their own free will for profit. Odds are it will be healthy middle class girls involved, not poor crack whores desperate to feed a habit getting exploited by biotech companies since such women would make poor sources of genetic material.

Mike, I know that there is at least one court precedent (it was in Tennessee about 20 years ago, but I don't have time to look it up) that shows you wrong. A husband didn't want some embryos implanted after a divorce and the court held that he had a right not to "become a father" against his will and that the embryos were property and couldn't be implanted against his will.

If other state courts can take this particular route under their family laws then that could simplify things, though I don't know it would simplify them for the better. With IVF being legal regime that would make it easier to funnel authority over embryos to the mother is going to often work out for the rights of the unborn.

(Of course, he already was a father, but the court precedent spit in the face of that biological fact.)

I don't think you should be harsh on the judges for this. They were likely given no third of choice of letting her implant them and then absolving him of child support duties which would have been the preferable route to simply leaving them in limbo in the clinic. The child support laws would not be able to accommodate this scenario. The court was likely left with a hard realization that she could keep having herself implanted and they'd be forced to keep garnishing more of his wages to pay for more child support for unwanted children. Whether or not you support IVF, I think it is perfectly reasonable to say that an ex-wife does not have a right to keep implanting herself once the separation begins. How we'd solve that, I don't know. I'd say that handing them over to the state to be distributed to other married couples wanting to pursue artificial means would be the better solution if IVF continues.

Actually, the court had plenty of freedom (I read the case up extensively at the time), and I'll be as harsh on them as they deserve, which is a lot harsh. They could have treated the embryos according to a "best interests of the child" model instead of as property. That sort of court has a lot of leeway.

I just looked it up. The case was Davis v. Davis. The woman wanted to donate the embryos to another couple. The husband wanted them to be destroyed. The court decided that they were neither property nor persons but some sui generis category. It then decided the case based on Roe v. Wade (inter alia) and concluded that the husband should be granted his wish because his "right to privacy" precluded his being forced to "be a parent" against his will. So, as far as I can tell, the embryos were destroyed.

It then decided the case based on Roe v. Wade (inter alia) and concluded that the husband should be granted his wish because his "right to privacy" precluded his being forced to "be a parent" against his will. So, as far as I can tell, the embryos were destroyed.

Which is clearly bad judicial "law", for multiple reasons: following Roe when you don't have to is bad because Roe was a badly constructed decision, and its opinion was even worse. A judge should have been trying to avoid applying Roe, if at all possible, and it was certainly possible here. Secondly, whether a man has a right to "privacy" or not is clearly irrelevant to a decision about an embryo that is not his child (according to the court). Privacy does not grant a right not to be a parent, that belongs to other rights (if at all). The court had a perfectly legitimate way to solve the problem, to say simply that any child thus brought to term would not be his child before the law. Period.

I don't myself think at all that whether the eggs should be bought and sold has to do with exactly where and how they were removed from her body. It has rather to do with whether human eggs are the kind of thing that should be a product for sale. (Or human sperm, for that matter.)

Right, I agree: there is a perfectly good way to ask the question of whether selling the eggs is moral or prudent apart from whether the eggs were a part of her body. Or rather, there are 2 different ways of seeing moral problems, and the possibility that one should not sell eggs does not rest solely on whether the eggs are part of her body.

Tony, I think we need to distinguish the rather boring question of an egg's becoming "not part of a woman's body" because it is _released_ and/or separated from her body from the far more important issue of an egg's becoming "not part of a woman's body" because it is fertilized. The latter is definitely a sharp, bright line and matters a great deal.

I was only trying to point out that the eggs is in the process of becoming not part of the woman's body even before conception takes place, so the while the conception certainly represents a bright line demarcation to say the egg is no longer part of her body, it is not the only source of division/distinction available. One could quite legitimately say that even before the fertilization started the egg was well on its way to being not part of her body, so the bright line merely points to the end of the process. All this changes is the period of time and abruptness by which we can say the egg has ceased to be part of her.

The problem is not whether the gamete is part of the person's body, but the intentions of the donor and recipient.

The way that sperm is gathered for donation is not only immoral in the way it is produced but also in the intent of the donor, the custodians of it, and the recipient.

While one might argue for or against the morality of egg donation by chemical means, one cannot hold against Christian (and I mean specifically Catholic) principles that the intent of the donor (to provide eggs for making embryos), that the intent of the custodians, and the intent of the recipents can in any way be moral.

It matters not whether the gametes are considered part of the donor's body. If hair or fingernails - or sloughed off outer epidermis - which may not be considered part of the donor's body were given up with full knowledge that they would be used for immoral purposes, such a donation could never be considered moral even though the biologicals themselves have a neutral moral worth.

Legalizing payment does not make the biologicals, to be used for immoral purposes, morally neutral apart from intent. That is a scam borne from utilitarianism.

That does take us back to the P.S. in my post, though. Suppose that there were some other use for the unfertilized eggs other than making embryos. Suppose that it really were possible (which I _heartily_ doubt, let me just insert here) to make pseudo-embryos or embryoid entities or whatever one wants to call them which genuinely are non-organismal masses of cells with no internal self-organization, etc., etc. And suppose one could hyperovulate women and harvest their eggs and purchase them for that purpose. Would that make it okay? My take is, no, it would not be okay. Or let's get away from the pseudo-embryos altogether. Suppose that scientists could just figure out something that might be Helpful To Humanity simply by studying and "doing stuff" with human eggs that didn't involve making anything remotely like an embryo. No parthogenesis, nothin'. Just messing around with human eggs under the microscope. Would it then be okay to pay women to hyperovulate and have their eggs harvested for that purpose? I'm still much inclined to say no. In fact, I'm inclined to say that it wouldn't be okay to have them hyperovulated and harvest the eggs even if you _didn't_ buy the eggs. There's something _strongly_ unnatural, in the pejorative sense, about egg harvesting. Or so it seems to me.

Yep. Just because something is wrong on 3 or 4 levels doesn't prevent it from being wrong on a 5th level at the same time.

It seems highly unlikely that using chemicals to induce a woman into hyperovulation is not in some way damaging to the body, because (a) a woman isn't designed to have those levels of inducing chemicals in her body, and (b) she isn't designed to release that many eggs. It is my vague understanding that the eggs themselves release chemical triggers that help move the cycle along, it seem impossible that a hyperovulation could not release too much. And that's just from the biochemical aspect - what it does to the woman's body. The more troubling one is simply the question of whether one is free to manhandle the body, and especially the reproductive apparatus, in such a utilitarian fashion, whether there ought to be a kind of "hands off" attitude about everything except that which fixes defective functioning. Alphonsus' reference to utilitarianism extends not only to the immoral uses they have for the eggs

, but the utilitarianism with which they view the woman herself.

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