Use of Tissue From Aborted Fetuses Backed
A federal advisory panel Friday declared as acceptable the use of human fetal tissue obtained from legal abortions and recommended that such research continue.
The committee refused to take a position on the “morality of abortion in general or the various and diverse circumstances under which it occurs.” But it said it recognized “the deep moral issues involved” and called for the development of research safeguards “respecting the principled viewpoints of all affected parties.”
In December, the panel is to deliver its recommendations to the National Institutes of Health, which is deliberating the fate of an existing moratorium on such federally funded research. The report adopted Friday is considered a draft and may be revised. However, no major changes are expected.
The temporary ban on federally funded fetal research was imposed last April by Dr. Robert E. Windom, assistant secretary for health, who requested that an outside panel be convened to debate the scientific, moral, ethical and legal questions associated with the use of fetal tissue in research and therapy.
Medical researchers believe the transplantation of fetal tissue holds extraordinary promise in the treatment of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and other serious illness. But right-to-life advocates have strongly opposed the use of such tissue from abortions.
The advisory panel, made up of representatives from the academic, legal, ethical and scientific communities, has been meeting for the last three days at the National Institutes of Health to hear public testimony on the issue.
At Odds With White House
The position taken by the panel Friday puts it at odds with the Reagan White House, which is considering issuing an executive order or some other measure to block federal funds for such research. The federal government is a major financial backer of medical and scientific research in this country; thus, an end to federal grants for fetal research would be considered a serious blow to the field.
Earlier this week, researchers reported the successful transplantion of human fetal immune system cells into mice, a breakthrough that is expected to have a major impact on the study of many diseases, especially AIDS, a fatal affliction of the human immune system.
The panel called for the development of guidelines for the use of fetal tissue to protect “the moral sensitivities deeply held in our society,” including “avoiding commercialization” and keeping the abortion itself “as independent as possible” from “the retrieval and use of fetal tissue.”
Also, the committee said, proper consent must be obtained from the mother and, if possible, the father, for use of the fetal tissue for research.
Further, the committee recommended that researchers, hospitals and others “who would have moral reasons to be concerned with the methods used to obtain the tissue” be informed whether the source of the tissue was an elective abortion.
Couldn’t Designate Recipient
To avoid encouraging women to have abortions specifically for the purpose of donating fetal tissue, the panel recommended that pregnant women be barred from designating the recipient of the tissue. Therefore, a woman who wanted to provide tissue for a relative or other loved one who could benefit by a transplant of fetal cells would be discouraged from deliberately becoming pregnant and having an abortion for that purpose.
Also, the panel said, pregnant women should be prohibited from receiving financial or other incentives for the use of fetal tissue in research or transplantation.
The panel recommended that obtaining consent from the woman for use of the fetal tissue be deferred until after a decision has been made to have an abortion.
“We believe that the reasons for abortion are deeply personal and complex, motivated in most cases by the belief that terminating the pregnancy would be in the best interest of the pregnant woman or her fetus,” the panel said.
Affecting Abortion Attitudes
“There is at present no evidence upon which to decide whether or not the use of fetal tissue in research and therapy would encourage women to have an abortion that they might not otherwise have. But the well-publicized and potentially enlarged benefits of research and therapy employing fetal tissue might affect general attitudes regarding the moral dimensions of the abortion issue.”
Fetal cells have been used experimentally in transplantation to replace and assume the functions of diseased or defective cells. Researchers believe these younger cells grow and adapt more readily and are much less likely to be rejected by the body’s immune system. Currently, most aborted fetuses are cremated.