By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC

The Center for Bioethics and Culture’s award-winning documentary Eggsploitation has been making a very big splash because it explores the hitherto rarely discussed risks associated with egg donation. Now, a recent million dollar-plus verdict illustrates not only the potential perils of egg donation, but the potential civil legal consequences to egg procurers. From the story:

An Arlington jury has returned a $1.5 million verdict for a woman who alleged that she suffered a stroke because a physician was negligent in providing in vitro fertilization therapy. At the time of the stroke in November 2008, the plaintiff, Maimunah Jafer, was relatively young for IVF therapy at age 30. She also had a hormonal disorder and low body mass. Those factors put her at risk for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, according to her attorneys, Malcolm P. McConnell III and Jason W. Konvicka of Richmond.

Despite the indications that Jafer was at risk, McConnell said, Dr. Michael Nort DiMattina continued with the therapy, including the injection of a hormone to stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs so they could be taken from Jafer’s body and fertilized outside of it. The hormone caused Jafer’s ovaries to become enlarged and fluid to leak from blood vessels and collect in her abdomen. The loss of fluid thickened the viscosity of Jafer’s blood, which increased the risk of a stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain, and her physicians responded by injecting fluids into her bloodstream. Jafer initially lost most of the use of the left side of her body from the stroke, McConnell said. She has recovered somewhat but still walks with a limp and continues to have weakness and lack of dexterity in her left hand.

This situation involved a woman trying to have her own baby. Now, imagine the verdict if she had been paid to be hyper-ovulated for another couple or for a scientist wanting eggs for human cloning. The potential for such verdicts is very high — unless there is thorough and very full disclosure of the risks. And once that is given, many women will back out not wanting to risk their lives, health, and fertility. Indeed, cases like this are the kind that whet lawyers’ appetites.

At minimum, egg donation should be treated like cigarette smoking. As a very risky behavior best not engaged in. I can think of few better deterrents to the kind of wild, wild, west practices too often seen in the IVF industry than the potential for huge lawsuits. This case makes me think they may be coming.