Cover Story

The harvest of abortion

"The harvest of abortion" Continued...

Issue: "The harvest of abortion," Oct. 23, 1999

Most researchers want parts harvested from fetuses 18 to 24 weeks in utero, which means the largest babies lying in lab pans awaiting a blade would stretch 10 to 12 inches-from your wrist to your elbow. Some researchers append a subtle "plus" sign to the "24," indicating that parts from late-term babies would be acceptable. Many stipulate "no abnormalities," meaning the baby in question should have been healthy prior to having her life cut short by "intrauterine cranial compression" (crushing of the skull).

On one protocol dated 1991, August J. Sick of San Diego-based Invitrogen Corporation requested kidneys, hearts, lungs, livers, spleens, pancreases, skin, smooth muscle, skeletal muscle and brains from unborn babies of 15-22 weeks gestational age. Mr. Sick wanted "5-10 samples of each per month." WORLD called Mr. Sick to verify that he had indeed ordered the parts. (He had.) When WORLD pointed out that Invitrogen's request of up to 100 samples per month would mean a lot of dead babies, Mr. Sick-sounding quite shaken-quickly aborted the interview.

Many of the dissection orders provide details of research projects in which the fetal tissue will be used. Most, in the abstract, are medically noble, with goals like conquering AIDS or creating "surfactants," substances that would enable premature babies to breathe independently.

Other research applications are chilling. For example, R. Paul Johnson from Massachusetts' New England Regional Primate Research Center requested second-trimester fetal livers. His 1995 protocol notes that the livers will be used ultimately for "primate implantation," including the "creation of human-monkey chimeras." In biology, a chimera is an organism created by the grafting or mutation of two genetically different cell types.

Another protocol is up-front about the researchers' profit motive. Systemix, a California-based firm, wanted aborting mothers to know that any fetal tissue donated "is for research purposes which may lead to commercial applications."

That leads to the money trail.

Life Dynamics' investigation uncovered the financial arrangement between abortionists and fetal-parts providers. The Uniform Anatomic Gift Act makes it a federal crime to buy or sell fetal tissue. So entities involved in the collection and transfer of fetal parts operate under a documentary rubric that, while technically lawful, looks distinctly like a legal end-around: AGF, for example, pays the Mayfair Women's Center for the privilege of obtaining fetal tissue. Researchers pay AGF for the privilege of receiving fetal tissue. But all parties claim there is no buying or selling of fetal tissue going on.

Instead, AGF representatives maintain that Mayfair "donates" dead babies to AGF. Researchers then compensate AGF for the cost of tissue recovery. It's a service fee, explains AGF executive director Brent Bardsley: compensation for services like dissection, blood tests, preservation, and shipping.

Money paid by fetal-tissue providers to abortion clinics is termed a "site fee," and does not, Mr. Bardsley maintains, pay for baby parts harvested. Instead the fee compensates clinics for allowing technicians like Ms. Ying to work on-site retrieving and dissecting dead babies-sort of a Frankensteinian sublet.

"It's clearly a fee-for-space arrangement," says Mr. Bardsley. "We occupy a portion of their laboratory, use their clinic supplies, have a phone line installed. The site fee offsets the use of clinic supplies that we use in tissue procurement."

According to Mr. Bardsley, fetal-tissue recovery accounts for only about 10 percent of AGF's business. The rest involves the recovery and transfer to researchers of non-transplantable organs and tissue from adult donors. But, in spite of the fact that AGF recovers tissue from all 50 states, Mr. Bardsley could not cite for WORLD an instance in which AGF pays a "site fee" to hospital morgues or funeral homes for the privilege of camping on-site to retrieve adult tissue.

Mr. Bardsley, a trained surgical technician, seems like a friendly guy. On the phone he sounds reasonable, intelligent, and sincere about his contention that AGF isn't involved in the fetal-tissue business for the money.

"We have a lot of pride in what we do," he says. "We think we make a difference with research and researchers' accessibility to human tissue. Every time you go to a drug store, the drugs on the shelf are there as a result of human tissue donation. You can't perfect drugs to be used in human beings using animal models."

AGF operates as a nonprofit and employs fewer than 15 people. Mr. Bardsley's brother Jim and Jim's wife Brenda founded the organization in 1994. The couple had previously owned a tissue-recovery organization called the International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine (IIAM), which had also specialized in fetal-tissue redistribution, counting, for example, Mr. Sick among its clients. But when IIAM's board of directors decided to withdraw from involvement with fetal tissue, the Bardsleys spun off AGF-specifically to continue providing fetal tissue to researchers.


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