Dr. Warren Albrecht | United States
President Donald Trump led his administration to ban fetal tissue use in research. Both the Washington Post and New York Times immediately pointed to research from HIV to Parkinson’s as possibly being “devastated”.
“The ban on fetal tissue research is akin to a ban on hope for millions of Americans suffering from life-threatening and debilitating diseases. It will also severely impact the National Institutes of Health, universities and other researchers, who will lose key funding for their laboratories and their vital work.”
It is documented well in the book Science Left Behind that, from Bill Clinton to Obama, politicians have been trying to get around the issue of stem cell research. Originally, the issue surrounded embryos, and Congress restricted any money directly involved in their destruction. Dr. James Thomson, at the University of Wisconsin in 1998, isolated Human Embryonic Stem (hESC) cells. These cells are essentially origin cells. They can differentiate into any cell from the body. The potential for curing or treating diseases may be infinite. Dr. Thomson was funded through the Geron Corporation and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundations. Essentially no federal government funds were used. Stem cells derived from the different tissues of a fetus became the next political battleground.
The Dreams of Fetal Tissue Research
According to the 2015 Congressional Research Service, fetal tissue is any product of conception older than eight weeks of pregnancy. An embryo is under 8 weeks of age. Fetal tissue has been used for research since the 1930s. It is estimated that the N.I.H. spent about $100 million of its $37 billion annual budget on fetal tissue research projects, up from almost $80 million from several years before. Specific cells can be used for many different medical research reasons. Most of the fetal tissue is obtained through elective abortions. Fetal tissue research was used for many of the most common childhood vaccinations. Stem cell research and treatment is ongoing for many diseases today. Fetal tissue is described as, “a flexible, less-differentiated tissue.”
The tissue comes from the early stages of development and is easy to work with in research. Someday, these stem cells may be obtained from adult tissue, but for now, the fetal tissue is the best we have.
Why the Fetal Tissue Ban?
The New York Times wrote about the grey zone in exchanging fetal tissue. The issue is over the legality of the trade. The NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 states that trading tissue in an interstate process for profit is unlawful.
The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), using citizen journalistic techniques, taped Planned Parenthood associates discussing the selling of fetuses to biologic corporations. David Daleiden, the founder of the Center of Medical Progress, was undercover as a representative from a new company trying to get a contract with Planned Parenthood (PP). The PP associates were filmed negotiating the price with him. If there was no profit, then why talk about money?
Litigation against Daleiden by Planned Parenthood in an attempt to bully the CMP may be losing steam. Multiple investigations of Planned Parenthood have resulted in no findings of illegality. The media and Planned Parenthood have both said that the videos were doctored. Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the New York University School of Medicine, dismisses the videos as “pure politics”, but also states that some of the footage “did get my eyebrow to arch.”
“You can’t use a different approach to abortion to try to preserve something. Those are just no-no’s.” Full videos have been available for watching. While these videos did not expose any illegal practices, the populace now knows just exactly what is going on.
The media fails to mention a Judiciary Committee report which documents the ABC 20/20 investigative report from March 8, 2000, where the ABC reporter pretended to be looking for fetal tissue and videotaped companies admitting that they obtained fetuses from abortion clinics and could make a large profit.
In the same Judiciary Committee report and investigation, Advance Bioscience Resource Inc. (ABR) admitted to collecting human fetal tissue from abortion clinics and selling them at a mark up price. This is supported by a congressional letter concerned about the FDA’s continued purchase of fetal tissue through FDA contracts.
This created a situation in which the Trump Administration is forced politically to be more careful about how taxpayer money is used. The law does allow for corporations to use the fetal tissue and create the cells which would be used for research and to bill for transport, processing, etc.. But how does one distinguish money exchanging hands for profit from kickbacks, as well as regular processing fees?
Is Money the Root?
According to the Washington Examiner, Planned Parenthood performed around 330,000 abortions in 2018. Each abortion cost between $350 and $950. By conservative estimates, Planned Parenthood could sell 150,000 fetuses or tissue from their organs with $4.5 to $15 million in profit. In a New York Times article, Linda Tracy, president of Advance Bioscience Resource Inc. (ABR), confirmed that possible Planned Parenthood individual fees between $30 and $100 dollars are “reasonable”. The same New York Times article discusses charges from these procurements and provider companies which can be thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
We Should Do Better
One conflict is about whether the taxpayers are funding an abortion industry which makes additional money off the trading of fetuses for research. On top of that, how do we know the FDA or NIH are paying fair market prices for anything including fetuses or getting results out of our research investment?
Biologic companies survive only if the cost of materials (fetuses) used to create a final product (stem cells) utilized for research is cheap. Unless there is someone funding this (taxpayers) with unlimited grants without oversight, medical research could be spinning its tires and wasting taxpayer money and we would never know it. Dr. Thomson, at the University of Wisconsin, developed Stem Cells with private money. “To move ahead, the reality is that fetal tissue research need not be funded or permitted everywhere,” Caplan says. “It needs to be allowed somewhere.”
In 2004, California passed Proposition 71, which amended its constitution using $3 billion to fund and allow for stem cell research. It created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which performs stem cell research. Whether through private money or individual states rights, medical research can be done without federal tax money. Unfortunately from the California based group, Consumer Watchdog,
Fourteen years after Californians voted an overwhelming Yes! to stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cells, and created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency has received its first royalty cheque. The amount? US$190,345.87.
During the campaign for Proposition 71, supporters strongly argued that destructive research on human embryos was absolutely necessary for the science to proceed and that cures would certainly come. Almost 14 years later, there have been no cures. The royalty cheque (check) was for a potential therapy…but even this not on the market yet. Thus far, it has only passed Stage I clinical trials.
Unfortunately, there is more money in research for the sake of profiteering off of that research than actually finding a cure. For now, this ban makes good business sense.
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