POSITION SUMMARY

The Nebraska Coalition for Ethical Research (NCER) opposes the use of human fetal tissue or cells derived from induced abortions. Such use involves complicity with the immoral act of abortion and violates the principle of informed consent. NCER supports the use of human fetal tissue derived from naturally occurring deaths such as miscarriages, stillbirths, or ectopic pregnancies.

EXPLANATION

Science

The process of obtaining and processing fetal tissue from induced abortions for use in research begins at the abortion facility, which may be an abortion clinic, private physician’s office, or hospital. Before or immediately after an abortion, the mother must sign a consent form for the use of tissue or cells from her fetus. The fetal tissue must then be immediately transported fresh to the research lab or processed so that the tissue or cells do not die. The processing of the tissue may differ depending on the intended use or experiment to be carried out. Some fetal tissue may be delivered directly to the research lab. Otherwise, it may be sent to a human fetal tissue supply organization, which then distributes the fetal tissue to researchers.

Fetal tissue and cells can be used in a variety of ways:

  1. In basic and preclinical research to learn more about cellular differentiation and function.
  2. In clinical research, such as implantation of fetal brain tissue or cells into the brain of a patient with Parkinson’s disease.
  3. In the laboratory as a culture medium, for example, to aid in the development of stem cell lines or to grow viruses for clinical and research purposes.

Researchers using fetal tissue hope that it will one day prove effective for the treatment of various diseases. However, alternative tissue sources for the treatment of disease are currently available, such as umbilical cord blood cells or adult cells. Furthermore, there is little compelling evidence that fetal or embryonic tissues are superior to these alternative sources.

Ethics

Research using fetal tissue from induced abortions is wrong because it involves complicity with the immoral act of abortion and violates the principle of informed consent.

  • Every genetically human organism is a human being. Human embryos and fetuses are human beings in their earliest stages of development.
  • Every human being has a right to life. Abortion constitutes the deliberate destruction of a prenatal human being.
  • Every human being at each developmental stage is of equal value to every other human being and, therefore, is an end to be loved, not a means to be used for another’s end. Fetal tissue research from induced abortions treats the fetus as an object valued only for its parts. The argument that the aborted fetus is “already dead” or that “some good should come from the abortion” is to rationalize the destruction of a fetal human being for the possible benefit of another human being.
  • Use of fetal tissue from induced abortion constitutes complicity with abortion. The nature of research requires that fetal tissue be available from abortions in an ongoing and prearranged manner. To assure a steady supply of living fetal tissue, the researcher must collaborate directly with the abortionist or indirectly through a fetal tissue supply organization. The researcher thereby supports, or at least accepts, the abortions necessary for his/her research.
  • Research involving human subjects requires that proxy consent can be given only if the research does not harm the subject. Research may not be performed on human subjects before or after death without valid consent. But who can consent to the research use of fetal tissue from an induced abortion? The prenatal human being who will be destroyed by the abortion cannot give consent. Nor can the mother of the fetus rightfully give consent: she cannot authorize the intentional destruction of an innocent human being and claim at the same time to represent the best interests of her fetus by then donating the tissue to research.
  • The goal of research involving human subjects is to serve humanity by relieving suffering and curing disease. Research using fetal tissue from induced abortions involves the deliberate destruction, dismemberment, and dissection of a prenatal human being. It is wrong to pursue research that benefits from the continued deliberate destruction of human beings, even to relieve the suffering of others.
  • Failure to protect embryonic and fetal human life, the most vulnerable of human beings, erodes the moral foundation of our society. Fetal tissue research from induced abortions does not accord prenatal human beings the protection that is their due as human subjects of research. Since respect for human life is a cornerstone of civilization, such fetal tissue research will weaken the moral foundation of our society.

PUBLIC POLICY

In 1988, the Reagan Administration put a moratorium on federal funding of research involving the transplantation of fetal tissue obtained from induced abortions. This moratorium was continued by the Bush Administration and was in place until January of 1993 when President Clinton rescinded it with an executive order. That same year, Congress enacted a law allowing federal funding for the transplantation of fetal tissue from induced abortions under certain circumstances. For example, tissue may be harvested only after the embryo or fetus is dead, a woman’s consent to the harvesting of tissue may be obtained only after she has decided on an abortion, and no change may be made in the timing and method of an abortion to meet researcher’s needs. The 1993 law also explicitly removes the authority from the President and his appointees to block the funding of fetal tissue transplantation research.

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