5 Takeaways From a Discussion of Alternatives to Fetal Tissue Research


5 Takeaways From a Discussion of Alternatives to Fetal Tissue Research

Dec 6, 2018 3 min read
Melanie Israel

Visiting Fellow, DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family

Melanie is a Visiting Fellow in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at The Heritage Foundation.
Policymakers have the opportunity to hear expert witnesses attest to amazing scientific advancements and discoveries using ethical alternatives to fetal tissue. boonchai wedmakawand/Getty Images

The Department of Health and Human Services is considering the future of federally funded research using fetal tissue derived from elective abortions, amid continuing controversy surrounding government contracts for such tissue.

Two House subcommittees will hold a hearing Dec. 13 regarding ethical alternatives to fetal tissue research.

The pro-life Center for Medical Progress shocked the nation in 2015 by releasing a series of disturbing undercover videos in which abortion industry representatives discuss the sale of aborted baby body parts.

The videos led to multiple congressional investigations and resulted in criminal referrals of procurement companies and abortion providers for a range of potential legal violations. Those violations range from profiting from the sale of tissue and infringing on patient privacy to modifying surgical abortion procedures for the purpose of obtaining certain tissue.

Last week, two scholars from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, took part in a Heritage Foundation event entitled “Fetal Tissue Research: Antiquated and Unethical?

As HHS considers the scientific value of fetal tissue research and the plethora of ethical alternatives, the presentations by David Prentice, Ph.D., and Tara Sander Lee, Ph.D., at the Heritage event made for a timely and informative discussion for policymakers and citizens alike.

Here are five important takeaways.

1. Fetal tissue research has existed for decades, and U.S. law has evolved.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a moratorium on using federal funds for fetal tissue research from abortions, President Bill Clinton lifted that moratorium in 1993.

That same year, Congress passed legislation on transplantation research that uses fetal tissue. It included provisions for informed consent and payments associated with procuring and transferring the tissue.

2. Results of various projects generally have been unsuccessful.

Proponents of fetal tissue research claim that it has led to advancements such as creating the polio vaccine, while omitting important details about the difference between historic fetal cell lines (which do not require ongoing abortions) and fresh fetal tissue (which does require ongoing abortions).

The original polio vaccines used monkey tissue and fetal cell lines. No current vaccines are made with fresh fetal tissue.

Moreover, fetal tissue transplantation has been unsuccessfully used in attempts to treat ailments ranging from anemia to diabetes to Parkinson’s disease. Attempts to transplant fetal stem cells also have been unsuccessful.

3. Fetal tissue research has become a $100 million industry.

Despite this bonanza, companies that procure fetal tissue for researchers operate with little to no oversight.

In one particularly disturbing instance, a consent form given to women at a Planned Parenthood clinic to procure the tissue from aborted babies claimed that fetal tissue research has led to a “cure for such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and AIDS.”

Such a blatantly false statement never should have been printed, much less used to influence a woman’s decision-making regarding abortion.

Some researchers now want to use aborted fetal tissue to research Zika, respiratory distress syndrome in infants, Down syndrome, and HIV/tuberculosis.

In one example of a tabulation of procurement costs, a company paid $60 for one fetus, then made “well over $400 on average for every part that they sold.”

4. Many ethically obtained alternatives exist.

Ethical alternatives to tissue derived in abortions include sources from the placenta, umbilical cord, amniotic fluid, discarded surgical tissue, and postmortem tissue.

5. Ethical alternatives have contributed to successful research projects and cures.

Researchers used discarded surgical tissue to identify key mechanisms involved in developing human pulmonary valves.

A small biopsy of skin may be used to grow cells that can imitate and resemble embryonic stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells then can be programmed to generate an “organoid” that can resemble a brain, lung, kidney, or liver.

Doctors have used adult stem cells to treat over 1.5 million people worldwide for cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury, and other conditions.

At next week’s hearing before two House subcommittees, policymakers will have the opportunity to hear from expert witnesses who once again will attest to amazing scientific advancements and discoveries using ethical alternatives to fetal tissue.

The status quo is unacceptable. It’s time for Congress and the Trump administration to take action. Good science and life-affirming, ethical research aren’t mutually exclusive.

HHS should issue a moratorium on federal funding for such fetal tissue research, and pursue ethical alternatives as soon as possible.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal