June 27, 2006 - letter

Regarding: Melinda Gates' support of Proposition 71, California's stem cell initiative

Dear Ms. Gates,

HandsOffOurOvaries is a project of Every Woman First, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to women’s health issues as they relate to biotechnology. We are not asking for money! Rather, we are asking you not to give. Please let us explain.

You and Mr. Gates were generous funders of Proposition 71, California’s 2004 stem cell initiative. Poorly understood is the fact that acquiring the eggs necessary for the cloning portion of this research stands to harm women in ways that its promoters erroneously dismiss as inconsequential. Because women have been undergoing egg extraction as part of in vitro fertilization (IVF) for two decades a common presumption is that the procedure is safe. But this misapprehension prevails only because IVF remains largely unregulated: tracking and reporting on the health of the women who undergo egg extraction is not required. However, grassroots women’s groups e.g. Our Bodies, Ourselves, have been monitoring the field and are gravely concerned both by what they have found and by established medicine’s evident disregard of women’s complaints and experiences. Sadly, this inattention is part of a pattern of disregard in women’s health care. The ill effects of thalidomide, DES, and hormone replacement therapy are only several of the more prominent examples of interventions that caused iatrogenic illness owing to their incautious and widespread application in advance of systematic study.

Before surgically extracting their eggs, women are given powerful drugs. Lupron, commonly used to shut down a woman’s ovaries before stimulating them to produce many times more the normal number of eggs has not been approved for this purpose. Twenty-five deaths and thousands of complaints regarding this drug have yet to be investigated by the FDA. Antagon, a drug that has been approved for such use has no long term safety data. Studies on stimulatory drugs provide serious warnings. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine mild Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), e.g. ovarian enlargement, nausea, vomiting and abdominal discomfort occurs in 10-20% of cycles. Severe OHSS includes a wide range of serious consequences including loss of fertility, kidney or multiple organ failure, and death. Estimates of the frequency of severe OHSS vary widely, but are as high as 10 per cent of women who undergo the procedure. Younger women are more vulnerable to severe OHSS. Five women are known to have died of OHSS in the UK where reporting is required. Moreover, there are no studies adequate to asses more long-term but very serious risks, e.g. ovarian cancer.

Untold thousands of eggs will be necessary to conduct research cloning, and science-entrepreneurs who have major conflicts of interest should not be empowered to recruit “donors.” A case in point is the 2004 cloning effort (now thoroughly discredited) in which South Korean and U. S. researchers used more than 2,000 eggs obtained by paying and coercing women, some of whom were in subordinate positions within the research lab. Now, thirty-five Korean women’s groups are seeking compensation on behalf of the nearly 20 percent of the “donors” harmed by the procedures. Science-entrepreneurs also revealed a disregard for women’s health during California’s 2004 campaign for its stem cell initiative. There they sued (unsuccessfully) in an attempt to prevent feminists from publishing in the Voters Guide information revealing that Proposition 71 would incur serious risks to women’s health.

The trade in human ova already crosses national borders, and there are numerous examples demonstrating that this growing international trade is brutally exploiting young women living in Eastern Europe and other countries. For example, poor, semi-literate young Romanian factory workers are reported to repeatedly sell their ova for $250 in efforts to escape the depredations of poverty and the absence of employment opportunities that pay a living wage. Finding themselves suffering from new and mysterious health problems, some of them have taken legal action complaining of inadequate informed consent, poor medical follow-up, and other violations of established medical standards

The politics of abortion has hijacked clear thinking on the issue of embryo stem cell research. In order to liberate full disclosure of the issues from the log-jam of abortion discourse, proChoice and proLife feminists created HandsOffOurOvaries, a safe-zone in which we can together draw attention to the callous disregard of women’s lives demonstrated by the push for egg procurement. The science, social science, and health care professionals who joined to form HandsOffOurOvaries cordially invite you to contact us at, everywoman@handsoffourovaries
to discuss our global call for a moratorium on egg procurement and our request that the Gates Foundation refuse to donate to research that trades women’s health in a highly speculative gamble for cures.

We look forward to the possibility of hearing from you and hope, too, that you will visit www.handsoffour
for more information.

July 14, 2006 - letter

Regarding: California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Medical and Ethical Standards Regulations, 17 Cal. Code of Regs. 100010-100130

Dear Members of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC),

The recent CIRM draft regulations regarding egg "donation" which seek to legitimize procuring eggs for research from women undergoing IVF is ill-advised. Women undergoing IVF are in a vulnerable position both psychologically and physically. Their health as well as the integrity of the IVF procedure should not be jeopardized by competing concerns unassociated with their desire to have a child. Suggesting regulations that would facilitate acquiring excessive numbers of eggs from women undergoing IVF only serves to underscore that the aims of SCNT advocates are at odds with women’s health and well-being. The most ethical position for the ICOC to adopt is a moratorium on egg donation until such time as independent scientific research establishes that it will cause neither short nor long term harm to women. Medical practitioners should not be asked to compromise their responsibilities to protect their patients’ health.


Jennifer Lahl B.S.N., M.A.

Josephine Quintavalle

MAY 11, 2006 - press release

Founding members of Hands Off Our Ovaries denounce the proposed policy position of the HFEA to increase the availability of human eggs for research purposes.

Hands off Our Ovaries (HOOO), an international movement of "pro choice" and "pro life" women applauds the decision by the HFEA to take the time to examine more carefully the issue of human egg procurement for research. HOOO is concerned with the growing exploitation of women for biotechnological research and the fact that current egg extraction practices pose serious short-term health risks for women. These include Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome, which can affect up to 10% of women and prove fatal in some rare cases. Furthermore, knowledge of long term risks is currently inadequate. There is a long history of significant damage to womenç—´ health resulting from careless and overzealous use of hormones in DES (diethylstilbestrol given to pregnant women) to HRT (hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women). Download entire press release PDF

More information or email

Contact details for press:

Jennifer Lahl (011 510 290 3891)
Josephine Quintavalle (0044 207 581 2623)

MARCH 8, 2006 - press release

Hands off our Ovaries! International Woman’s Day brings launch of a new coalition of women to campaign against exploitation of women in biotechnology .

On Wednesday, 8 th March, International Women’s Day, a coalition of "pro-choice" and "pro-life" women, concerned at the growing exploitation of women in biotechnology will launch a new campaign against the harvesting and marketing of human eggs. The campaign. ‘Hands off our ovaries!’ will highlight the short and long-term risks involved in egg harvesting and its significance for the health and dignity of women.

Concerned feminist representatives have joined together on this common ground, outraged by the casual attitude of the biotech industry towards the female body. Like-minded leaders and groups from around the world are invited to join a list which already includes representation from the USA and Europe. Download entire press release PDF

More information or email

Contact details for press:

Jennifer Lahl Oakland California (011 510 290 3891)

Paola Tavella & Alessandra Di Pietro Rome Italy (0039 06 067840132)

Josephine Quintavalle London (0044 207 581 2623)

* ‘Madre Selvagge - Contro la technorapina del corpo femminile’ Alessandra Di Pietro

Paolo Tavella © Einaudi 2006 ISBN 88-06-18054- I