DESPITE PUBLIC, MEDICAL and scientific objections raised during the Jan 11, 2008 public consultation on the obtaining and use of human ova in Human-Animal Hybrid Combinations for Stem Cell Research, the Bioethics Advisory Committee (BAC) has decided to pursue a futile area of research. And this at a time when the country has economic problems and the money can be better used for those who need help.

Why futile?

Despite 10 years of embryonic stem cell research, heavily funded by venture capitalists and governments, no therapy has materialised; the cancer forming properties of the embryonic stem cells and their propensity to be rejected are an insurmountable challenge. Thus embryonic stem cells cannot fulfil the World Health Organization’s "efficacy and safety" criteria for biological products for human usage.

Furthermore, many millions of dollars have been lost not only in centres overseas but also locally.

What justification can there be in pursuing this line of research, which is also fraught with serious ethical minefields?

Nevertheless, scientists at BAC plan to persuade adult women to donate their eggs – donors will be compensated for loss of earnings during egg donation in addition to compensation for transport and childcare expenses. These women volunteers will be given egg-stimulating hormones to cause ovulation and the eggs are then collected from the inside of the abdomen. The procedure itself causes serious side effects, such as the hyperstimulation syndrome; complications that have been reported to include kidney failure, peritoneal infections, high blood pressure and, in a few cases, death.

In this voluntary experiment, there is no real benefit to the egg donor and there is no evidence that there is any benefit to any recipient, since the egg is used for experiments such as cloning with animal tissues. This is unlike blood donation when a benefit to the recipient can be clearly seen.

The universal Physician’s Hippocrates Act and the Singapore Medical Council’s Physicians Oath which every new doctor takes, include the words, "make the health of my patient as my first consideration; use my knowledge in accordance with the laws of humanity, and to comply with the Ethical Code".

Women are advised not to embark on this procedure, that is, do not donate your eggs. - By Dr Gabriel Oon

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