My piece in Today’s Dallas Morning News

OPINION – Viewpoints

Minimally invasive? More like reckless endangerment

Someone teach these men about the dangers of egg harvesting, says JENNIFER LAHL

12:00 AM CDT on Monday, May 14, 2007

John T. Gill, chairman of the Texas Healthcare Task Force, and Texas GOP Rep. Pete Sessions – to promote embryonic stem cell research – are telling everyone they can, including members of Congress, that egg harvesting from women is a “a simple, minimally invasive procedure.”

One wonders, however, if these Southern gentlemen would still believe egg extraction was “minimally invasive” if it were done to men?

Here’s what that would require: Donors would inject themselves daily with a hormone to first, shut down their testicular function. Then we’d shift to daily injections of another hormone that would cause their testicular function to go into warp speed and their testes to swell to abnormal size.

These daily injections would prepare the men to undergo a surgical procedure with anesthesia whereby a catheter with a needle at the end would be inserted into the testes to remove large quantities of sperm. After extraction, about 5 percent of the men would suffer side effects ranging from infection, damage to their future fertility and, in a few cases, even death.

One could forgive any men reading this far if they abruptly turned the page, but the above description is almost exactly what we are asking our young women to do as the debate shifts from eggs for babies to eggs for embryos that will be cloned for stem cell research.

Who is the anonymous female egg donor? She is the woman targeted and courted on virtually every college campus – like Calla Papademas, the 22-year-old Stanford student who suffered a stroke after answering an egg donor ad offering $15,000.

She is the poor woman trying to make ends meet – like Alina Netedu in Bucharest, the 19-year-old factory worker who lost her fertility selling her eggs to pay for her wedding.

She is countless others who are being told it is their civic duty to give some eggs for the cause.

What does this simple, minimally invasive procedure entail? Daily injections of powerful hormones, over about a month, to shut down the ovaries and then hyperstimulate them.

Normally women ovulate an egg or two each month. However, if we can trick the ovary and manipulate it, we can get more than a dozen eggs in one cycle. One egg donor commented to me, “My egg broker loved me, as I was easy to stimulate.”

Following this hormonal injection regime, the woman’s body is ready for the retrieval process. Anesthesia is administered so that a catheter with a needle at the end can be inserted into the vagina. The ovary is punctured, the eggs removed.

Simple and minimally invasive? Risks associated with ovarian stimulation such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome – which can cause stroke, organ failure, even death. Risks associated with anesthesia. Risks associated with the needle aspiration of the eggs from the ovaries which can cause internal hemorrhage.

Sadly, Dr. Gill and Mr. Sessions have not been following the positive trends and changes in fertility medical practice. Times are changing as fertility medicine moves to the more natural, minimal ovarian stimulation, women-friendly model of “less is better” for infertile women.

With so much at stake, ignorance of the medical facts is no excuse.

Jennifer Lahl is national director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network and founder of Every Woman First. Her e-mail address is jennifer.lahl@cbc -network.org.

Author Profile

Jennifer Lahl, CBC President
Jennifer Lahl, CBC President
Jennifer Lahl is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.