Australia: Stem cell research methods perilous for young women & tamper dangerously with humanity Print E-mail
The Age -- Melbourne -- Tuesday April 17, 2007

A risk to women's health

By Tammy Lobato

WE ARE given emotive stories of how somatic cell nuclear transfer will miraculously cure those with degenerative diseases. We are presented with images of people suffering and told they will be cured by experimenting with specially created embryos. But how? We have not been told, and those hoping to be world leaders in this field of experimentation don't know either.

It is enough that they want the industry and recognition. The SCNT (cloning) process requires thousands of eggs that together with a diseased cell form the embryo that is required to develop in a dish in a laboratory for 14 days before being destroyed. If this embryo was implanted into a woman's uterus, it would develop into a human being with, most likely, some deformities.

Back to the required eggs, from where will they be obtained? Given that a woman produces one or two a month, where will we obtain thousands? I am assured that egg donation will be popular and as simple as blood donation. I am also told that we may use leftover eggs from IVF. In fact, this is not possible given that leftover eggs are frozen and when they are thawed they disintegrate. It is also likely that they will be fertilised — therefore useless in the SCNT process.

Commonly the eggs used in IVF are not from the ideal age bracket of women required for SCNT. I'm 35 and apparently too old to be an egg donor for this experimentation. SCNT eggs need to be fresh from young women.

The only way of obtaining these eggs is to hyper-stimulate the ovaries of our young women after ovarian suppression. This procedure uses powerful and dangerous drugs that may cause multiple egg extraction to be possible, creating maybe 12 eggs, while risking the health and safety of the woman.

From this process many women experience various degrees of ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, which in its mild form creates abdominal symptoms, nausea and ovarian enlargement. Severe consequences can be loss of fertility and organ failure.

Such invasive surgical procedures such as the actual extraction of the eggs will not be met with an altruistic donation that some have suggested. A lack of required egg donors will lead to commercialisation, unless, of course, we allow retrieval of eggs from dead women and aborted foetuses, which is entirely possible.

In 2003, as members of the Victorian Parliament, we were told that to allow embryonic stem cell research by using "leftovers" from IVF, would provide the cures that we are now being asked to believe again. I have been approached by several people who back then were convinced by the arguments and sold by the prospect that their family members would be cured of degenerative diseases. They came to me expressing their disappointment and their cynicism.

In 2003 the legislation allowing embryonic stem cell research specifically prohibited cloning and SCNT. Well, four years later we are permitting both, but the only difference is we are destroying the embryo at 14 days. If we allowed its implantation into a uterus, it would be human reproductive cloning. There is no doubt in my mind that in another four years or before, the Parliament will be asked to allow the embryo created through the SCNT process to be implanted into a uterus because research outcomes are not being realised due to limitations.

With my parliamentary colleague Christine Campbell, I have arranged for hours of briefings and have spent many more hours researching this complex science.

The simplistic way this cloning procedure is explained deserves much more investigation. Because of the procedure's contribution to the altering of humanity as we know it, it should not be shrugged off as progress. This issue, I believe, is one that must question our commitment to human rights.

Dolly the sheep was the first cloned animal to live, albeit with many diseases. Last week Americans created a half man, half sheep. Should we be proud of these developments?

Just because we can, does it mean that we should?

Tammy Lobato is Labor MLA for Gembrook.