The recent round of attacks from anti-abortion extremists and lawmakers against the importance of fetal tissue research ignores medical standards of care, vilifies providers, scares patients and inserts the government in personal and sometimes complex medical decisions. These unfounded allegations are just more of the larger effort to mislead the public and ban abortion altogether.
This research saves lives! It brought us the polio vaccine, which saves over 500,000 people every year. Vaccines for chicken pox, rubella and shingles also originated from such research, and modern-day research continues to depend on fetal tissue.
Progress in stem cell therapy, understanding diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and the latest medical findings on how Zika virus affects the human body are all contingent on continued donation of fetal tissue for medical research.
For the past year, congressional abortion opponents have been on a crusade to quash these groundbreaking, potentially life-saving medical advances. Their actions have already led to the shutdown of at least one tissue procurement company.
With the assistance of local anti-abortion extremists, Congress has specifically targeted the University of New Mexico and Southwestern Women’s Options. Congress has issued subpoenas to these institutions, in order to “investigate” their handling of fetal tissue donation for research. The congressional investigations have yielded no evidence of wrongdoing anywhere, neither nationwide nor in New Mexico.
Facing congressional standoffs over fetal tissue donation, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a statement last year, “Exploiting women’s health care for political gain does the Senate a disservice and wastes the people’s time.”
He’s right. In New Mexico, fetal tissue donation is explicitly permitted under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, with no state-imposed restrictions. The use of tissue derived from fetuses is carefully regulated. Medical ethics and medical providers ensure that the decision to have an abortion is separated from the decision to donate fetal tissue.
As people of faith, we are called to be partners with God in healing and in the alleviation of human pain and suffering. Like so many medical decisions, the decision to donate fetal tissue is deeply personal and one a woman makes according to her own faith and values.
For example, one woman, who ended a planned pregnancy because the fetus had spina bifida and a tethered spinal cord, took solace in the option of donating tissue because it meant contributing to research that might spare other families the same heartbreaking decision. And according to a bioethicist writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, there is actually a moral imperative to use fetal tissue, a precious resource that would otherwise be discarded, to its maximum benefit to society – working toward medical advances.
Women who have made informed decisions to donate fetal tissue for research, as well as the researchers, and medical providers, deserve the respect and gratitude of society.
Fetal tissue research enables medical advances that would otherwise be impossible; past medical advances wrought by fetal tissue say it all.
We wouldn’t have vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis A and rabies without fetal tissue research and donation. Without the continuation of fetal tissue donation, we would block current medical research related to heart disease and sudden cardiac arrest, juvenile diabetes, autism, schizophrenia and HIV, just to name a few. This research is indispensable to our future.
We believe that women have the responsibility and right to make their own private medical decisions and preserve the fetal tissue research that will save lives. I am grateful for all the hugely impactful medical advancements that have resulted because of caring women and families who made the compassionate decision to donate fetal tissue.