Ad raises the question of ethics in campaign advertising.
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Ad raises the question of ethics in campaign advertising.

Date: October 25, 2006
By: Lucie Wolken
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - One of the most emotional TV ads about the Nov. 7 stem cell research proposal features a young woman in tears sharing her experiences selling her eggs to a fertility clinic.  Sitting on a bed and describing herself as a college student, she talks about the potential adverse health affects from her actions.

However, there is one part of her story that viewers are left untold -- she is an actress.

The Vitae Caring Foundation, a group that creates educational ads on stem cell research, sponsored the ad in opposition to the November ballot issue that would provide a state constitutional right for stem-cell research.  The ad includes no disclaimer.

The young woman featured in the ad describes what she claims is her experience, stating, "Sure I signed the consent form.  I didn't really read it.  I needed money to pay my college bills, so I sold my eggs to the fertility clinic.  The procedure was really painful, and my mom was upset.  Now I find out it might cause kidney failure, ovarian tumors, and sterility.  Some women even die from it."

But it all was a script.  Carl Landwehr, president of Vitae conceded, "It is an actress in the ad."

While the experience that the woman in the ad is not her own, Landwehr said that it is an experience that is authentic.

"I do not think that [the ad] is misleading," Landwehr said.  "How that message is depicted is the issue, the dangers involved, that is the issue."

While the donating of female eggs has been going on at fertility clinics for 25 years, the risks involved in the process are being used by opponents of the stem cell initiative to discourage its passage.

In response to the ad, a Missouri infertility expert says the dangers are being exaggerated.

Dr. Valerie Ratts, an infertility specialist and practicing physician at Washington University in St. Louis called the ad "false advertising" that she charged played on the emotions of the viewers. 

"There is a chance that women can develop ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome, if that is severe, that is when you can have kidney problems, but this is extremely rare," Ratts said.

As for the claims made by the ad of death caused by egg removal Ratts said, "There is a greater chance of dying in a car accident on your way to the hospital than dying from this procedure."

Landwehr justified the use of an actress, saying that most women want to remain anonymous when speaking about an issue that is so private.

"Most of these women do not want to tell their story personally," Landwehr said. 

The claims in the TV advertisement were defended by a woman who has written a book about her own experiences in donating eggs and opposes the November ballot proposal.

"More attention needs to be paid to the health and emotional repercussions of the eggs donor," said Julia Derek, author of Confessions of a Serial Egg Donor -- although Derek said she thought the advertisement should have included a disclaimer that the person was an actress.

Although the ad's actress talks about selling her eggs, Connie Farrow, spokeswoman for the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, said the language of the Missouri proposal would strictly ban financial compensation for the eggs used in stem cell research.

"Amendment 2 strictly bans the buying and selling of human eggs," Farrow said.  "It requires any human eggs used for stem cell research be donated with fully informed consent of the donor without any profit or fees."

Farrow voiced concerns that the ad confuses and scares women about what the stem cell initiative will do.

"If what they were saying were true, we would not be supported by groups such as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Association for Reproductive Health Professionals, and The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition."

On the other side, Landwehr stood by his organization releasing the ad despite the fact that the story featured is not that of the woman featured.  He said he is more concerned with what will happen to the number of women affected if the initiative does pass.

 

"The number of women who go through this and have these side affects are admittedly not a lot," Landwehr said.  "The point of this ad is to depict not that this happens a lot -- I am thankful to that -- but that the number of women will skyrocket if this initiative does pass on November 7."

 

While Ratts does not deny that there are side effects, but said she is most concerned about this ad and others tying together egg donation and stem cell research.  

 

"As a medical professional, I would never do this procedure over and over again if I thought it would harm young women," Ratts said.  "This is something that is completely separate from the [stem cell] debate."