NIH chief defends use of human fetal tissue as opponents decry it before Congress

It is noteworthy that a devout christian and well respected scientist is defending the use of fetal tissue.

Money used to purchase fetal tissue from abortion providers is not increasing the number of abortions. There are no women who are selling off their fetuses, and the use of fetal tissue in research makes no impact on the decision to seek or provide an abortion. If nothing else, the use of fetal tissue in research could potentially improve the lives people through improved medicine and treatments which would be a case of deriving something good from a very unfortunate circumstance. How will the world be improved if these tissues are destroyed instead of being used in research?


Do we know that? I don’t think so. After all, the income to a clinic and organization from fetal tissue sales could allow them to expand staffing and locations—and every study I’ve ever read claims that the number of clinic staff and locations offering abortion services greatly affects the number of abortions.

Indeed, the usual complaint from Planned Parenthood et al about various states placing regulatory burdens on clinics and practitioners performing abortions is that it increases costs, reduces income, and means more limited staffing and fewer abortion-performing locations—thereby reducing the number of abortions performed in that state. Likewise, eliminating income from fetal tissue sales would surely decrease the number of abortions. So surely the converse would have an opposite effect.

I’m not advocating a particular position here. I’m just examining the logic of cause and effect.

It is already against the law to profit from the sale of fetal tissues acquired through abortions. The only fees abortion providers collect is to offset the costs of the containers and shipping. Your concerns are very legitimate, and the solution is to enforce the laws that are already on the books. I think it would behoove abortion providers to give an accounting of how much they spend to collect these tissues and show how much they collect in return.

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False. I know of several women who were considering getting abortions—but then they heard that the fetal tissue might be used for research purposes. This was extremely upsetting to them.

And as one young lady told me, “I was further horrified to think that my baby’s remains might actually be sold!” Whatever one might think about the politics of abortion, strong emotions and moral considerations surrounding tissue sales have a very real impact on a woman’s decision to seek an abortion.

I also know a registered nurse who quit working at a clinic providing abortions after she learned that the fetal tissues were being sold. Again, the impact is very real.

Yes, these cases are anecdotal—but does anybody doubt these realities?

Once again, I’m not advocating for any particular political position on abortion. Nevertheless, we can’t ignore the role of human emotions in this issue. The use of fetal tissue in research can have a huge impact on a woman’s decision to see an abortion.

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It has been reported—the accuracy I cannot judge—that clinics have sought out and eagerly contracted the sale of fetal tissues because the revenue collected more than offset the actual costs. (Indeed, the medical industry is well known for finding ways to assess fees that are far far above the actual costs plus a reasonable margin.)

It has also been reported that abortion providers have not been entirely eager and transparent in doing so. Again, I have no means to evaluate the accuracy of those reports.

Once again, @Patrick has brought to our attention a very important article. And the discussion has been very helpful to me.

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HIPPA (Health Information Privacy Protection Act) requires patient consent to participate in research for tissue samples to be taken and used in this way. That should also apply here.

Educated guess: most women are going to their primary care doctor for abortions, therefore most will be asked to sign a consent form first. There shouldn’t be any samples taken with that consent.

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Indeed. One woman told me that it was when she was reading that HIPPA-required consent form that she chose to not get an abortion. So the impact of such sales can be profound.

Only a tiny percentage of all primary care physicians perform abortions. So most women are going elsewhere. Moreover, most primary care physicians are not gynecologists—and, to my knowledge, in most states abortions are performed primarily by gynecologists.

Most gynecologists do not perform abortions. It is also interesting that most gynecologists in the USA do not provide referrals to abortion-providers at all. Most U.S. Obstetrician-Gynecologists in Private Practice Do Not Provide Abortions and Many Also Fail to Provide Referrals | Guttmacher Institute

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I have long heard claims that fetal tissues are unnecessary because the research can better be conducted with non-fetal tissues, especially umbilical cord cells. So this segment of the article and the Congressional subcomittee testimony was especially valuable:

The hearing was tense and adversarial at times, particularly as Republican lawmakers grilled Temple. Subcommittee chairman Mark Meadows (R–NC) repeatedly reminded Temple that she was under oath and asked how she could reach a conclusion so diametrically opposed to Prentice and Sander Lee.

“You need to really delve into the details,” she responded, adding with a swipe at the other witnesses: “which is why we rely on experts in our community who are truly experts in fetal tissue models … and the consensus opinion is that [proposed] alternatives are not sufficient.”

At least in my experience, I don’t think the media has done a great job in adequately reporting on this topic. (Perhaps it is better covered on some cable news channels. Yet, I don’t even listen to much TV broadcast news so my assumptions may be skewed on this.)

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Women have to consent to having tissue donated, so it would never happen without her knowing. Women are also not allowed to profit from the donation, and neither is the abortion provider. Consent is only asked for after the abortion is performed. PolitiFact has a good article about the specific technicalities, if you are interested:

I would be curious as to why she thought performing abortions wasn’t a problem, but allowing those tissues to be used in research was a problem.

I completely agree. This is a very emotional subject and everyone should be respected and heard.

I’m a bit confused by this story. It was the mere fact that other women consented to having tissues donated that changed her mind?

I would seriously doubt the accuracy of those statements. At least for Planned Parenthood, only a tiny, tiny percentage of the income comes from abortions, and they wouldn’t risk the billions of dollars on a few hundred dollars for selling fetal tissues.

Good questions.

I can’t officially speak for these women, obviously, but I got the impression that in each case these were instances of “the straw which broke the camel’s back.” I suspect that each had had significant reservations for a while (for a variety of reasons) but that the tissue-transaction issue pushed their decision over the topic.

Of course, I suppose some might consider me guilty as a WASP-over-50 male of “mansplaining” on an issue which only women should explain.

I have heard that Mikey from the Life cereal commercials died suddenly after eating Pop Rocks and drinking Pepsi.

When there is such an emotionally charged issue like this one it is best not to trust things that you just hear.

So was she upset at the very idea that fetal tissues were donated by other women? Afterall, she could have withheld consent in her own case and those tissues would never be donated.

This male WASP-over-40 would certainly not do that. :wink:

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Just so we are all clear, abortion services at Planned Parenthood make up just 3% of their total incoming money, and federal money is never used to pay for abortions. The bulk of the money they take in (either private or public) is for vital cancer screenings, contraception which prevent untold numbers of unwanted pregnancies, and treatment of STD’s. These services are predominately offered to women who would otherwise not have access to this medical care or medicine.


I am certainly not trying to lessen the importance of the ethical and moral questions surrounding abortions, but the context is important as well. I really don’t see how selling fetal tissue really factors into Planned Parenthood’s overall business model.

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I have no reason to believe that the women who shared their experiences with me were lying. (When women speak, I generally trust them.) The original contention was that fetal-tissue transactions had “no impact” on women’s decisions. Unless we deny what at least some women are saying—no matter how many or how few—the “no impact” claim appears to be false.

Meanwhile, I think it is very commendable that the Peaceful Science community can engage these controversial news items without the rancor and chaos found on many Internet forums.

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Yes she was.

Emotions happen. And they impact decisions. She felt that it was “morally abhorrent” so she didn’t want to have anything more to do with that clinic.

People draw their moral lines in different places. We can respect them even while trying to understand them.

Perhaps Dr. Collin’s public position on this topic will change many minds. Time will tell.

I am just trying to understand how it impacted her decision. Is it the very idea that fetal tissues are donated for research that impacted her, or was she under the false impression that her fetal tissues would be used for research without her consent?

As to the necessity of using fetal cells in research, it is still debated among scientists and the consensus is that these tissues are still needed as discussed in the article linked in the opening post. One of the major points is that if new cell lines are going to be used they still have to be compared to fetal tissues to make sure they are as effective.

That’s really interesting, and thanks for conveying this information. As a scientist I tend to see it from the exact opposite direction. Abortion is the morally troublesome procedure, but the chance that tissues from this procedure can help somebody in the future is one of the only good things that comes out of it. If these cells could help someone but are discarded instead, how is that ethically or morally superior? Again, this is just my own view, and I am not saying that the women you interacted with is wrong.

If nothing else, people can come to understand what people think and why they think it in a respectable and honest manner.