Fetal tissue research

Carly Fiorina’s lies during a debate about a video she had seen that she claimed showed officials of Planned Parenthood callously discussing harvesting aborted infants for fetal tissue research has given that topic a lot of adverse publicity. But this article by Carina Storrs explains what fetal tissue research actually involves and the enormous benefits that it has provided in finding treatment for polio, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Fetal tissue has been used since the 1930s for vaccine development, and more recently to help advance stem cell research and treatments for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. Researchers typically take tissue samples from a fetus that has been aborted (under conditions permitted by law) and grow cells from the tissue in Petri dishes.

Many of the uses of fetal tissue — and much of the debate — are not new. “It’s just that the public is finding out about it,” said Insoo Hyun, associate professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University.

In addition, the ways that fetal tissue are allowed to be obtained and used are not new either, Hyun said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released guidelines on the topic in the 1990s.

One of the earliest advances with fetal tissue was to use fetal kidney cells to create the first poliovirus vaccines, which are now estimated to save 550,000 lives worldwide every year.

Many of our other common vaccines, such as chicken pox, rubella and shingles, have been produced in tissue derived from fetuses, particularly two electively terminated pregnancies from the 1960s. Advances in how researchers work with cells have allowed them to grow fetal cells indefinitely in Petri dishes, thus not requiring samples from any newly aborted fetuses.

For those implacably opposed to fetal tissue research because the tissues are obtained from aborted fetuses, the good news is that experts predict the need for it will decline in the future. The bad news for them is that it will be replaced by research on stem cells.

The article explains that there are all manner of safeguards in place to prevent abuse and there is no evidence whatsoever that Planned Parenthood has violated those guidelines. But that will not stop the zealots like Fiorina from propagating falsehoods.


  1. Jockaira says

    The very least that Fiorina could do on this issue is to make a statement that the jury is still out pending further investigation. And that would also be a lie as there has been no evidence of unethical handling of fetuses by Planned Parenthood. That statement would not go over well with anti-abortion ideologues in the Republican Party but would narrow the gap between her previous lies and reality, and perhaps widen her support among sane republicans.

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