What Good is Fetal Research for Science?
David Bunnell, Editor
Questionable ends not justified by immoral means
The debate over fetal tissue research and transplantation in the scientific community began to heat up in the mid- to late-1980s when many doctors began to surmise that unborn children’s bodies could be used for organ transplants to help patients with Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. It continued as scientists proposed that fetal tissue could be used to help infertile couples have children, to develop methods of contraception, and eventually be used for bone marrow transplants — a procedure that is done now with adult transplant donors.
Many doctors and medical ethicists argue that such research is not now and could never be as effective as its advocates claim. They further state that even if it were effective, the ends don’t justify the means.
Dr. Diane Irving, a medical ethicist for the De Sales School of Theology said, “To use or produce human embryos solely for destructive experimental medical research for ‘the greater good of society’ or ‘the advancement of scientific knowledge’ is unethical and has been rejected by most countries.” (This practice is a crime in Canada, France and Germany.) Irving said the arguments for fetal research aren’t based on fact and scientific integrity, but on “politicized philosophy.”
Anatomy professor Dr. C. Ward Kischer of the University of Arizona College of Medicine agreed, saying that those who favor fetal research are uninformed. “Scientific ‘spin doctors’ have invented and promoted such bogus biology as ‘pre-embryo’ and stages of individuality,’ and duped many physicians who know little about human embryology,” Kischer said. “Many of them are now using this pseudoscience to justify human embryo experimentation.”
Pro-life doctors and ethicists also warn that such research will increase the demand for abortions and the total number of abortions done.
“It is inevitable that for a woman — often an immature woman — whose conscience is the last inhibition against sacrificing a child to her own interests, the message that the abortion ‘might bring some benefit out of tragedy’ could tip the balance from life toward death by relieving her guilt,” said Notre Dame Professor James Tunstead Burtchaell in a column for the Chicago Tribune (2/3/89). His comments were prophetic. The March 20/20 report centered around a woman who had aborted her twin babies because she was told they would die soon after birth, and she wanted to do “something good” by donating their bodies to science.
One of the most common arguments for using aborted babies’ bodies for research, and what could be the view of the majority of the doctors involved, is that if the abortions are going to happen, we might as well get some good out of it. It’s a choice, some say, between “wasting” the tissue and using it for a noble cause.
Biomedical ethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan is perplexed by that line of thinking. “When you or I sign a permission form for our organs to be transplanted, there is a personal desire to help another,” Dr. Caplan said. “Who has the right to give this permission for the aborted child? Certainly not the woman who has ordered his or her death. Certainly not the doctor who has carried out these orders to destroy life.
“Can you imagine a civilized army collecting the enemy bodies they have just killed and harvesting organs to save the lives of their own dying? Would our modern ethicists argue that this would be better than enemy deaths being totally wasted?”
Proponents of fetal tissue transplants point to its use on Parkinson’s disease and diabetes patients as an area where they say the field shows much promise, but many analysts say this is wishful thinking.
Planned Parenthood of the Susquehanna Valley asked the PA Dept. of Health for permission to begin doing abortions without the emergency patient transfer agreement with area hospitals that the law requires them to have, according to Lancaster’s Intelligencer Journal.
This intention placed Planned Parenthood in a controversial position, as even leaders in the abortion industry often have a problem with allowing abortions to be done by centers that don’t have a transfer agreement in the event of life-threatening complications for the woman having the abortion.
In Parkinson’s patients there is a malfunction in the part of the brain that produces the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing the most debilitating symptoms of the disease. Researchers have transplanted fetal brain tissue (sometimes extracted from the unborn child’s skull even before he or she is dead) into the brain of the person afflicted, in the hopes that the symptoms can be reversed by more efficient production of dopamine.
The procedure was tried on several patients in the late 1980s and proponents quickly touted its success. The media fanfare was not near as great months later when the Harvard Health Letter reported that “over time, it became clear that most recipients improved only temporarily before returning to their earlier levels of disability.”
The prevailing opinion in the pro-life movement that such ends do not justify the means of killing unborn children was summed up by John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York. “My father was in bed with a nerve disease for five years,” he said. “If I had said to him that I would put a baby to death to keep him alive, he would have put me in jail.”
For example, the National Abortion Federation, a trade association of sorts for “abortion providers,” cautions abortion-minded women on its website not to have an abortion unless the doctor is prepared “to admit patients to a nearby hospital (no more than 20 minutes away).”
Pennsylvania law isn’t quite that stringent, as a 30-minute drive is the guideline. To do abortions, a center in Pennsylvania must have in writing that a hospital within that distance will be prepared to treat women who suffer from botched abortions. No hospital in the Lancaster area has granted Planned Parenthood such an agreement. Nancy Osgood, president and CEO of Susquehanna Valley Planned Parenthood, said they had all refused it outright or just refused to respond to Planned Parenthood’s requests.
She said that Lancaster General and Community Hospital of Lancaster are both capable of caring for potential patients, but “purposefully neglected to list the care they can provide.” Such a listing must be stated in the legal transfer agreement to prove that it is a facility that can handle common complications of abortion for women’s health.
Health Department spokesman George Yanoshik said the agency shouldn’t be expected to do the research work for Planned Parenthood.
“Assuming that we could go back and do the paper-work is not an acceptable business standard,” Yanoshik said. “We need to be assured that health and safety standards are being met. … The onus of proof is the responsibility of the provider not the department.”
Planned Parenthood was later given a transfer agreement by a hospital in York. Members of the press accompanied pro-life leaders on a trip between the two places. The drive took them 46 minutes.