September 30th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Debate simmers over Australian values

EDITORIAL: Learn from America and the EU!

NATIONAL SECURITY: Is ASIO the Achilles heel of counter-terrorism?

MERCHANTS OF SLEAZE: Raunchy lingerie for young children

EMPLOYMENT: Guest workers accepted at economy's expense

QUEENSLAND: State election a no-show for Coalition

HUMAN CLONING: U.S. feminists warn on cloning risks

UNITED STATES: Pro-choice feminism's NeW rival

CLIMATE CHANGE: 'An inconvenient truth?' ... or pseudo-science?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Quadrant reaches 50 / Grassroots journalism / And another flies over the cuckoo's nest / Howard, Beazley and friends - the next 12 months

ASIAN AFFAIRS: China's missile build-up threatens Taiwan

Queensland election: why the Coalition lost (letter)

September 11 remembered (letter)

Behind the Montreal shootings (letter)

BOOKS: THE BEST OF ANDREW BOLT: Australia's most controversial columnist

BOOKS: THUNDER FROM THE SILENT ZONE: Rethinking China, by Paul Monk

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U.S. feminists warn on cloning risks

by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, September 30, 2006
Prominent American feminists have highlighted the dangerous effects of multiple egg extraction from women to provide eggs in large numbers to laboratories for cloning experiments.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources held hearings on human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research.

Appearing before the committee on March 7 was pro-choice feminist, Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, a women's health education and advocacy organization best know for its long-selling book about women's health and sexuality, Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Norsigian expressed serious concerns about multiple egg extraction use in human somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), more commonly referred to as "research cloning", "therapeutic cloning", or "embryo cloning". She proposed that the U.S. should follow the example of Canada and place a moratorium on all SCNT research until better safety data are available for some of the drugs used during multiple egg extraction procedures.

Adverse reactions

She said that, in extracting multiple eggs, Lupron is the drug most often used to suppress a woman's ovaries. Adverse reactions from Lupron and similar drugs included "high blood pressure; formation of blood clots that could potentially cause damage to vital organs; fluid accumulation in the limbs; thyroid enlargement; liver function abnormality; joint, muscle and bone pain; chest pain; difficulty in swallowing; intestinal bleeding; headaches and migraines; dizziness and blackouts; memory disturbances; depression; anxiety; numbness; swelling of hands; constipation; nausea; vomiting; diarrhoea; and vision abnormalities".

Appearing before the House subcommittee on the same day was Diane Beeson, a medical sociologist and professor emerita of sociology at California State University, East Bay. She has been a visiting fellow at Stanford University's Center for Bioethics and has served on many review committees for the Human Genome Research Institute's ethical, legal and social implications research program.

She said that Lupron has not been approved for this purpose by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but rather is used off label. Another such drug, Antigon, has been approved for such use, but data are lacking on its long-term safety. "The FDA currently has on file over 6,000 complaints regarding Lupron, including 25 reported deaths. These complaints must be investigated and analysed," Besson said.

There are other effects from the hyper-stimulation drugs used to produce up to 10 or 12 eggs at a time. Beeson said: "One study reports that up to 14 per cent of patients undergoing ovarian hyper-stimulation experience some form of ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, or OHSS. This is a condition of which the pathophysiology remains unclear.

Beeson has pointed to the fallout over South Korea's Dr Hwang Woo-suk, who had claimed to have cloned human embryos using 2,061 eggs in the process. She said that the full extent of the damage to the health of the Korean women who provided the eggs for Hwang's experiments was not yet known. However, a coalition of 35 women's groups is suing the South Korean Government on behalf of women who have been harmed in the process of egg extraction. Reports are that about 20 per cent of the donors have experienced side-effects.

Beeson said that, while two recent deaths from OHSS may indicate these are rare events, it is possible that many deaths and other longer-term side effects of ovarian hyper-stimulation have simply not been linked officially to the egg extraction procedures that preceded them.

She cited Dr Suzanne Parisian, a former chief medical officer of the U.S. FDA. Commenting on the dangers from the drugs used for multiple egg extraction, Parisian said, "Studies to date have not ruled out a possible link between stimulation drugs and increased risk of ovarian cancer."

It is very likely that "those promoting SCNT research may be unknowingly tackling a far more costly and serious health burden by allowing the expanded use of current IVF stimulation drugs for SCNT."

Beeson also warned that one of most destructive consequences of ovarian hyper-stimulation for women may be serious abnormalities in their children. She said that recent reports showed that "ovarian hyper-stimulation treatment in mice results in several significant abnormalities in their later offspring".

She added: "These effects include growth retardation, a delay in ossification (bone development) and an eight-fold increase in a significant rib deformity. This particular deformity in humans is associated with an increased incidence of abnormalities and cancer."

Beeson concluded, "In the absence of long-term follow-up, it is impossible to assess accurately the seriousness of the risks to women's health from the expanding use of egg extraction."

- Pat Byrne

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