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Fetal attraction

"Fetal attraction" Continued...

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

According to the most recent review of state law (in 2008) by the National Conference of State Legislatures, many U.S. states specifically prohibit such procedures on live fetuses. Other states don't address the subject. States vary widely in how they regulate fetal tissue research and donation, and some states apparently have no restrictions at all.

Pennsylvania's fetal donation law requires the woman to sign a consent form and mandates that anyone who handles the tissue be informed whether it came from a miscarriage, abortion, or some other origin.

But the state has exercised lax oversight of abortion laws in recent years. Investigations last year resulted in the closure of three filthy, Philadelphia-area abortion clinics-including one run by Kermit Gosnell, who was charged with murder last January for delivering live babies and then killing them. In response, Republican governor Tom Corbett, who took office in January, committed to resuming long-neglected clinic inspections.

Corbett also fired Pennsylvania Department of Health employees who had turned a blind eye to clinic problems. A spokeswoman told me by email the Health Department was not aware of any violations of the state's fetal tissue laws within the past 10 years-but noted that the new administration was reviewing all compliance matters.

Theresa A. Deisher, a scientist specializing in adult stem cells, told me stem-cell lines from aborted fetuses have been used to create cosmetic products and several common vaccines, including chickenpox vaccines: "I know the most terrific abusers of the products of abortion are academic scientists, across the board."

The nonprofit group that Deisher founded in 2008, Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute, stands in Seattle as a sort of rebuttal to the University of Washington's birth defects lab. "Its mission is to educate people about the pervasive use of morally illicit material in the biomedical industry" and other industries, she said.

Some, like Peg Johnston, a manager for a clinic that performs abortions in Vestal, N.Y., and chair of the Abortion Care Network, thinks that allowing women to donate their fetal tissue is both moral and compassionate. "I can tell you women do ask about it and feel that something good can come out of a difficult situation," she told me, although she said her clinic does not currently have a donation program.

"So, what's the argument? 'Oh, you're going to abort them anyway-you might as well make good use of the tissue.' Well, that doesn't justify anything," Deisher responds.

With state regulation of fetal donation spotty, Deisher fears that young women facing unplanned pregnancies may be enticed to abort with the promise that "great medical advances" will come from their fetuses: "What a terrible thing, to exploit those young women in such a vulnerable period."

But as long as fetal tissue is in demand and sparsely regulated, they'll continue to be solicited.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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