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Rhetoric of choice clouds dangers of harvesting women’s eggs for cloning

By Renate Klein - posted Thursday, 30 November 2006

In the debate about egg extraction for cloning research it seems even those who claim to be on the side of women have been blinded by the international industrial biotech lobby.

Leslie Cannold (“Women can still say no”) echoes a number of female politicians who claim that concerns raised about the exploitation of women and risks to their health from the biotech industry's voracious appetite for eggs, are alarmist.

Cannold and her friends in parliament seem to have taken it personally that feminists dare to speak out about the serious risks for women from the cloning juggernaut. They say we are alarmist and, according to Loane Skene and other members of the Lockhart committee, “pseudo feminists”, as if they think they own feminism.


Much as their rhetoric about so-called “choice” would seek to hide the truth, the dangers to women are real. Egg extraction is an invasive process.

Women are first put into chemical menopause and then given strong doses of drugs to hyperstimulate their ovaries. Up to 10 per cent of women will suffer ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome with symptoms including stroke, organ failure, respiratory distress and even death. A number of women have lost their lives through these procedures already.

Cannold's article is a serious distortion of feminist concerns about the crucial role women play in embryonic stem cell research.

She well knows that feminists - including my colleague in the Hands Off Our Ovaries campaign Katrina George - do not make the simplistic claim that women are "quite literally, incapable of saying ‘no’ to donation" or that "women lack the capacity to give informed consent" as she asserts.

She accuses egg-harvesting opponents of infantilising and patronising women and claims that we believe women are incapable of exercising free choice.

This is not true. But some choices are not worthy of the name.


Choice always occurs in particular social contexts, often characterised by significant power imbalances. Researchers want eggs to pursue their research. Biotech companies hope to cash in on an investment that may be worth millions.

With a focus not on women's health but on promised cures, women distressed by the suffering of a loved one will be under pressure to do the right thing and altruistically donate eggs. This does not mean that women are incapable of exercising choice in such a context. But it does require us to consider the power and value of such a decision.

Cannold - like some in the recent debate - dismisses these concerns.

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Parts of this article were first published in The Canberra Times on November 8, 2006.

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About the Author

Dr Renate Klein, a biologist and social scientist, is a long-term health researcher and has written extensively on reproductive technologies and feminist theory. She is a former associate professor in Women's Studies at Deakin University in Melbourne, a founder of FINRRAGE (Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering) and an Advisory Board Member of Hands Off Our Ovaries.

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Women can still say 'no' - On Line Opinion

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