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Our Bodies, Our Biotechnology

Most woman do not realize how valuable they are.  I am not talking about cooking, cleaning or raising the kids while bringing home the bacon.  I am talking about their biology.  So many of the culture wars today are on the battlefield of the female body because of our awesome pro-creative power.

There are many in the biotechnology arena who want to harness that power.  And some really don’t care how many women need to be exploited to get it.

Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced South Koraea cloning researcher who claimed he cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells, is a prime example.  He was convicted of embezzlement and was given a two-year suspended sentence.   In my estimation, one of Dr. Hwang’s major crimes was not his fraudulent paper, or his misappropriation of funds.  It was his exploitation of female researchers in his lab for their eggs.

Cloning requires eggs, lots of them.  Hwang blew through many as 2,000 eggs from as many as 120 women in his failed attempt to become the first to clone a human embryo.  Some of those eggs came from two junior researchers in Hwang’s own lab.  “Donating” eggs is not easy and has resulted in infertility and even death.  Whether female researchers in his lab were pressured to provide eggs or not, this was a huge breach of ethics.

Dr. Hwang’s exploitation of women for his failed cloning experiments reminds us all that cutting edge biotechnology, especially in the reproductive arena, is a woman’s issue.  Embryonic stem cell research and research cloning cannot continue without the precious eggs that reside in our ovaries.  In the future, reproductive cloning and genetic engineering of children cannot go anywhere without our wombs to gestate scientists’ latest creations.  All of these come with significant risks for the woman whose biology is so essential.

To retrieve the eggs needed in IVF and cloning a woman has to undergo a difficult and dangerous procedure and too many scientists view women as banks of harvestable biological material.  Shavonne, who was paid for eggs that were to be used to make embryos specifically for embryonic stem cell research, told her egg retrieval story to The Center for Bioethics and Culture:

I took a drug called Follistim to super ovulate me. The retrieval went fine, but not too long after that my stomach started to swell, and every time I leaned over I could feel my ovaries “plop.” I went to see the doctor, and he told me I had OHSS (Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome)…nurse stuck a needle in my stomach, and it was a loud pop I could feel, like a balloon was popped. She stuck a bag on the end of the needle to drain the fluid, and the bag filled with 2 quarts in about 5 minutes. She had to quickly put another bag on and some of the fluid spilled on the floor. She filled the next bag too—in all, 4 quarts were drained out of my stomach…. The staff at the hospital would shake their head at me and took pity on me, because I was an egg donor and they said they saw this a lot…. It took a year and a half to clear up the medical bills. My menstrual cycles are few and far between. I was pregnant in 2008, but I lost the baby. I hope to have children some day, and every time I do have a period, I get really excited because I rarely have them anymore.

Dr. Sam Wood of Stemagen Corp, the California company that actually did clone human embryos, said, a few years ago that he needs more eggs for his research — don’t worry about the health risks to young women. Dr. Wood wanted the eggs to continue to pursue therapeutic cloning:

“Give us the eggs. If we don’t succeed, then be critical,” said Wood. “You have to give people the tools that are required to determine whether the methodology will work.”

Once again the ends justify the means, the only problem is that he is talking about young women putting their fertility and health at risk to supply him with raw material for his cloning experiments.

Luckily now researchers have a new and viable alternative to embryos and cloning for embryonic-like stem cells.  They are called induced pluripotent stem cells and no eggs are required.  And yet, some are still fighting tooth and nail to make sure research cloning remains legal and embryonic stem cell research continues. Late last year another South Korean scientist announced he was going to continue attempts at cloning human embryos and would succeed where Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk failed.

I hate to be sexist, but some men just do not get that “donating” eggs ain’t like “donating” sperm.  I do believe that if embryonic stem cell research and cloning required the harvesting of sperm cells directly from the testicles with hormone injections and needles, both would likely still be the stuff of science fiction.  And would remain there.

One of my favorite quotes on cloning is from Dr. Gregory Pence, bioethicist from the University of Alabama and cloning advocate, where he nonchalantly writes about what it would take to make reproductive cloning, or cloning-to-produce children, a reality:

If the primary moral objection to reproductive cloning is that it will likely result in genetic error in reprogramming, then of course we want research to prevent that kind of problem.  But how do we do that?  The best way is to see how cloned embryos develop and to study them, gestating them in female chimpanzees, artificial wombs, or human volunteers, then aborting them to see which are normal and which are not, then experimenting to see how to create only normally developing embryos/fetuses. [my emphasis]

Dr. Pence, those “human volunteers” are real women, our daughters and granddaughters, who would be risking their own fertility and mental and physical health by not only carrying a cloned fetus, but also going through an elective abortion in the name of science.

This is why issues in biotechnology are often women’s health issues.  Because it is our bodies that will be exploited to make some of the visions of scientists come to fruition.  If we do not provide the raw materials, embryonic stem cell research and cloning, cannot proceed.

So who will be there to stand up for women and the exploitation of their bodies for science?  Liberals are often for cloning and embryonic stem cell research, which means they clearly do not care about women’s health as much as they say they do.  (In fact every time I hear someone from the left cry about how we need to pursue cloning and embryonic stem cell research for “cures” I think about the women that have to put their health at risk to make that happen.)

Some progressives are enlightened enough to object, many are not.  But, without a doubt, it will always be the Catholic Church that will stand up and say, “Stop using the gift and power of women’s bodies to conduct unethical science!”

Do your daughters a favor.  Teach them about biotechnology, the good and the bad — egg “donation,” surrogacy, cloning and the like.  Make sure they understand how valuable their bodies are.  They need to understand how not to fall victim to exploitation in the Brave New World.

This article, courtesy of Creative Minority Report.


Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for six years and is a regular on Catholic radio.