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Do the cloning experiment egg donors appreciate their place in history?

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Thursday, 11 March 2004

Recent news about the South Korean scientists successfully cloning human embryos has generated much fanfare.

Researchers at Seoul National University created hundreds of cloned embryos then grew 30 of them for a week before destroying them for their stem cells to establish one stem cell line. It has been hailed as an “historic milestone."

But what appears to have been forgotten is that these cloned embryos didn't just drop out of the sky. The eggs used to create them - all 242 of them -- came from the bodies of just 16 women.


That's a lot of eggs - 15 each on average. Each woman would have been hyper-stimulated with drugs, her ovary punctured and the egg cells surgically extracted. Did anyone ponder what this experience was like for her and what it may mean for her future health?

It seems not. These women are essentially invisible in the human cloning juggernaut.

Who were they? Why did they take part? How were they recruited? How old were they? Did they have other children or were they infertile? There was "no financial payment." But were other incentives offered like jumping the IVF queue or reduced IVF costs? Or were they lured by the incentive of so-called public good and altruism?

Did they fully understand what the experiments on their embryos would involve? Were they told where the end products of their embryos might end up? As Australian ethicist Dr Nick Tonti-Filippini has pointed out, this whole area of research is unregulated and unrestricted - "who stops the stem cells finishing up in cosmetics and who stops them being sent for biowarfare to one of the less democratic regimes in the world?" he asks.

After all, the stem cells belong to the corporation - they can be traded at will. Women don't get paid -- but the biotech companies stand to make squillions.

What if they find in future they are unable to have another child? Will they then think differently about their cloned embryos who underwent vivisection for their spare parts for the benefit of biotech companies?


We know now that it was wrong to ever assume that a woman would never grieve a baby miscarried, aborted, or relinquished for adoption. It would be wrong to make the same assumption about women and their cloned embryos.

Without the bodies of women, the dreams of scientists would never come true. There would be no ova to harvest, no embryos – surplus or manufactured - to experiment on or plunder for stem cells. Yet despite the widespread appropriation of women's bodies for these experiments, they remain faceless and nameless. They are divided into component parts, mined for their ova, viewed as experimental test sites. Researchers have described women as “endocrinological environments”, “therapeutic modalities”, “egg crops” and “alternative reproductive vehicles".

Bearing in mind that most women produce a mere one egg a month, women can be harvested of a years worth of eggs in one hit (cheaper by the dozen?). No one yet knows the long-term ramifications on women's health of hyperstimulation- there is a serious lack of long-term safety data.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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