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My pal Jennifer Lahl, head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, and anti-slavery activist Michele Clark, demonstrate one of the dehumanizing potential of human cloning research, and the danger that the demand for eggs required for massive cloning research could turn destitute women into so many trafficked egg farms. From their column at the First Things blog:

Whenever most people hear the term “egg donor,” they usually consider this a good thing, as most of us assume that anyone who donates is altruistically motivated and thus engaged in something intrinsically good. And besides, it’s for a great cause, so everything is all right, yes?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Sadly, egg donation has less to do with altruism and more to do with the exploitation of women—particularly young women and often poor women who are usually facing large debts or just trying to make ends meet.

In fact, we contend that human egg harvesting is the newest form of human trafficking.

Strong words, but are they justified? Yes, according to Clark and Lahl, based on the terms of the UN Anti-Trafficking protocol:

Article 3 of the Trafficking Protocol provides a...comprehensive definition of human trafficking, namely:
- acts of trafficking, which include recruitment of persons. Young women are heavily recruited for their eggs. One Google search would confirm this.
- means of trafficking, such as forms of coercion, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits.
- purposes of trafficking: exploitation, which is at the heart of trafficking, for the purpose of forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.

In March 2005, the European Parliament, taking its cue from the Trafficking Protocol, issued a resolution specifically condemning the trade in human eggs. The resolution, titled the European Parliament Resolution on the Trade in Human Egg Cells, was a direct response to the exploitation of Eastern European young women and condemned “the trade in human egg cells,” stating that “harvesting of egg cells poses a high medical risk to the life and health of women.”And, “despite the possibility of serious effects on women’s life and health, the high price paid for egg cells incites and encourages donation, given the relative poverty of the donors.” The European Union got serious about human trafficking following news stories of several young women who were severely harmed through egg donation in Eastern Europe.

But US law is not in accord with the Protocol, to which we are a signatory. That needs to change, the authors rightly contend, giving an example of the consequences to two women exploited for her eggs:
One donor explains her experience: When she had questions about the consent form, she was hurried and encouraged to “just sign it.” After she made repeated calls complaining of side effects, a nurse from the agency finally responded that it was all part of taking the drugs and that she should continue to endure the side effects. Ultimately, the agency’s inadequate screening process and neglect led to her suffering a major stroke and paralysis, and finally cost her the ability to conceive children naturally. Another woman was hospitalized with severe ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome. Less than a year later, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. These are only two examples of scores of similarly poor outcomes that have appeared in the medical literature but that are not systematically reported to any regulatory body. Potential donors have the right to know how common these disastrous outcomes are.
Human cloners are going to need tens of thousands of eggs to perfect SCNT technology. And since few well off women are going to willingly endanger their health and/or fecundity to help advance cloning technology, there is an acute danger that Big Biotech will look to the world’s poor women for the resources it needs. We are already entering an era of biological colonialism—what with the poor being paid for their kidneys and the like—which will operate just like colonialism’s earlier iterations; bu making money for the powerful at the expense world’s most destitute and powerless people. The time to stop it is now—before the exploitation sinks deeply into the economic bedrock of the US and world economies.

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