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Keywords:

  • assisted reproduction;
  • commodification;
  • egg markets;
  • embryonic stem cell research;
  • exploitation;
  • in vitro fertilization;
  • oocytes

Abstract: In order to reach its full potential, human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research requires the use of human oocytes. There is currently a shortage of human eggs for research, and this shortage is likely to continue, as many states and countries prohibit their sale for research purposes, while at the same time condoning unregulated markets for oocytes for use in assisted reproduction. In this essay I first explore possible alternative sources of oocytes for hESC research and conclude that, at present, women are the best source. I then examine arguments about exploitation and commodification that are often raised to prohibit payment to women for oocytes in both the reproductive and research contexts and find these arguments wanting. I conclude by suggesting that ethical concerns raised about a market in oocytes do not warrant a prohibition on the sale of eggs, but that a regulated market can consistently minimize ethical concerns while respecting women and providing important resources for advances in hESC research.