‘The most important consideration for defining limits on science will be the quality of our regard for our impacted fellow human beings…’
(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) As President Donald Trump’s discontinuation of federal fetal research reopened a longstanding medical debate, some pro-life scientists were debunking misconceptions while arguing for more ethical alternatives.
Ending a 70-year-old practice, Trump recently ordered government agencies to stop using fetal tissue in medical research, leading to claims from the Left that the ban will harm public health.
The Associated Press reported that “Patients will pay for the crackdown on fetal tissue research,” while the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board wrote that “Trump’s fetal tissue research ban will hurt many more babies than it ‘saves.'”
Even within the medical research field, opinions are divided, with some individuals calling fetal tissue research the “gold standard” and others seeing it as useless or replaceable, The Daily Caller reported.
Last Wednesday, Trump canceled a National Institutes of Health contract with the University of California, San Francisco for fetal-tissue research.
UCSF responded to the decision in a statement.
“Fetal tissue is used in important research aimed at discovering cures for illnesses that affect the lives of millions of Americans, including Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, eye disease and HIV,” UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood wrote.
Drs. David Prentice, Tara Sander Lee and James Sherley, who all work for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, argue that more ethical and more medically valuable substitutes exist for fetal-tissue research.
“There are several other model systems available to researchers for studying HIV, including nonhuman primates, which are considered the most relevant animal model for HIV/AIDS research to date,” Prentice and Lee said.
Proponents of fetal-tissue research argue that it is vital for making vaccines.
“The historical fact is that fresh aborted fetal tissue has never been used in vaccine production,” Prentice, Lee and Sherley said.
They said that some vaccines were made with aborted fetal tissue even though they were invented without it.
“Many modern vaccines use animal cell lines, even insect cell lines, as well as modern human cells that are not from fetal tissue,” Prentice, Lee and Sherley said.
Sally Temple, scientific director for the Neural Stem Cell Institute, said Zika research requires brains from aborted babies.
“For example, to learn how the mosquito-borne Zika virus moves from a pregnant woman’s bloodstream into her fetus and attacks the developing brain—and how to prevent that—requires studying fetal brain cells.”
Prentice and Lee disagree, again pointing to ethical alternatives.
“We know from published studies that organoids, three-dimensional organ-like structures constructed using modern stem cell techniques, are incredible models for studying Zika infection,” they said. “These organoids have been instrumental in deciphering both normal brain development and the mechanism of Zika virus action on the developing brain.”
Before Trump canceled the program, the FDA would purchase “fresh” fetal tissue to create “humanized mice.”
Prentice and Lee said humanized mice, which are used to study immune system responses, can be made without aborting babies.
“There are several other and frankly better ways to make these mice,” Prentice said according to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Instead of taking aborted tissues you can take surgical tissue from people who have already been born.”
Prentice also said tissue from miscarried babies, umbilical chords and cardiac surgeries could serve the same needs without promoting abortion.
When asked whether science is about “exploring every option,” Prentice, Lee and Sherley said it “never was and never will be.”
Beyond the debates about the medical value of aborted fetal tissue, they called for moral consideration about the topic.
“We have never and never will allow scientific research to be boundless,” they said.
“The continuing challenge, of course, is deciding as a society where to set those bounds for everyone. And in most cases, as now, the most important consideration for defining limits on science will be the quality of our regard for our impacted fellow human beings when we anticipate personal benefits at their expense.”