Should institutions use aborted fetal tissue for medical research?

The University of Minnesota has recently come under fire regarding the sourcing of its fetal tissue for medical research. Beginning in July, state legislators asked the research institution whether it used aborted fetal tissue for medical studies, and were told no. However, in a letter to two regents in October, University President Eric Kaler wrote, "The University does not know all of the various sources of fetal tissue procured by [Advanced Bioscience Resources] ABR. However, ABR has informed the University that it procures tissue from induced abortions at clinics throughout the country, including up until July 2015, clinics in Minnesota." The University later reassessed its fetal tissue research policy, and in a letter to the board of regents, Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, called for the school to "ban the use and purchase of aborted fetal tissue."

Abby Marino is vice-president of Students for Human Life, a pro-life University of Minnesota student organization. She writes:

Absolutely not. Using aborted fetal tissue for medical research perpetuates a system of abuse in which the institution actually does itself a disservice.

We are looking at two violations here: in choosing to not pursue moral and legal means of fetal tissue purchase, not only is state law violated, which prohibits the use of aborted fetal tissue for medical research, but this is a very loud violation of the institution’s accountability to the highest possible form of ethical standards and research conduct.

Institutions could actually do themselves a public favor by dissolving all ties between their research departments and the fears and concerns raised in relation to any procurement companies linked with abortion facilities. I strongly encourage institutions to obtain fetal tissue from unanimously ethical and justifiable sources, i.e., stillborn or miscarried infants.

Interestingly, institutions somehow recognize ethical complications in the field of animal research, yet simply feel entitled to use our taxpayer and tuition dollars for a practice much more ethically steeped: fetal tissue from induced abortions.

As a student here at the U of M, I want to see my University abide by state law and the highest possible moral code and ethical standard.

MPR News is Member Supported

What does that mean? The news, analysis and community conversation found here is funded by donations from individuals. Make a gift of any amount today to support this resource for everyone.

Jon Hanson is an officer for the University Pro-Choice Coalition, and is a biology major at the College of Biological Sciences. He writes:

There is absolutely no doubt about the great value of fetal tissue in biomedical research. In the past, investigations with the stem cells harbored in these tissues led to the development of the vaccines for polio and rubella and the subsequent eradication of those diseases. Currently, fetal tissue research aims to use these potent cells to cure neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, as well as to develop therapies and cures for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Of course, before this life-saving research can be conducted, the tissue must be procured from somewhere. In the case of induced abortion, a woman is given the option of donating her fetal tissue only after she has already made her choice to terminate the pregnancy and only after the operation has already been performed. Thus, the fact that the tissue donation could be used for research affects neither whether nor how the abortion is performed.

Furthermore, informed consent is a major aspect of this protocol; women know their donated tissue could be used to develop world-changing cures when they agree to donate. This is a generous decision that comes with deep thought and consideration. Why should their generosity not be allowed to benefit society?

Since there are already strict legal guidelines set to protect women during the procurement of this tissue, and the research has saved and can continue to save many more lives, donated aborted fetal tissue should undoubtedly be able to be used for biomedical research.

Today's Question: Should institutions use aborted fetal tissue for medical research?