Trump Administration Restricts Use of Aborted Fetal Tissue in Government Research

The Dept. of Health and Human Services has halted $20 million in U.S. tax dollars entangled with trafficking fetal tissue. Funds will be reallocated to effective, ethical medical research.

By Josh Shepherd Published on June 6, 2019

Another step for life, courtesy of the Trump administration. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued new restrictions on the use of aborted fetal tissue in government medical research.

“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” HHS stated Wednesday.

Approximately $20 million in annual taxpayer funding entangled with the ethically dubious practice will be halted. Specifically, it affects intramural funds which apply to government-run research at state-owned facilities.

“This is a strong, positive step in the right direction towards ending the grisly, disturbing practice of using aborted fetal tissue in research,” said Dr. Tara Sander Lee, associate scholar with Charlotte Lozier Institute.

Fourteen states currently restrict the use of aborted fetal tissue for experimentation. A scientist with 20 years’ experience in clinical medicine, Sander Lee spoke on a conference call with reporters.

“The Secretary’s decision to direct even more money into non-controversial, more advanced alternatives that are currently available to researchers is also a very wise move for how to invest federal funds,” she added.

One of the nation’s leading authorities on stem cell research, Dr. David Prentice is vice president of research at Charlotte Lozier Institute. He called the HHS announcement a “preliminary step” to halt the “trafficking in aborted fetal tissue.”

“There has not been a single successful report of using aborted fetal tissue to treat or cure any disease.”

While government-owned facilities are now barred from this practice, outside researchers such as universities will continue this taxpayer-funded research. The policy change also does not affect privately funded research.

Prentice noted that $120 million in extramural funding related to aborted fetal tissue research will continue to be spent this fiscal year. One such contract with the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), estimated at $2 million per year, has been cancelled though others remain.

“We look forward to more [steps],” said Prentice. “It’s going to mean not only ethical use of taxpayer funds but better science.”

What About Vaccines and HIV Research?

Mainstream media reports cast the policy change in a negative light. “Fetal tissue research … has led to life-saving advances including development of vaccines for rubella and rabies,” stated the Associated Press.

Dr. David Prentice

Dr. David Prentice

Prentice, who helped found the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center, countered these claims.

“These [funds] have nothing to do with vaccines, but involve basic laboratory research,” he said.

HHS has been raising awareness of the importance of vaccines. A recent measles outbreak has affected 26 states, with nearly 1,000 people contracting the disease according to the CDC.

An overview of current vaccine development trends reveals the new policy change has no bearing on that outbreak.

“There has never been any vaccine produced using fresh aborted fetal tissue,” said Prentice. “A couple of historical cell lines have been used since the 1960’s and are still used very sparingly for a few vaccines nowadays. Frankly, there are better ways to make vaccines now.”

Other voices such as The Guttmacher Institute, a research offshoot of Planned Parenthood, perceived the move as hypocritical.

“Despite the President’s pledge to ‘end the HIV epidemic,’ today’s announcement poses a direct threat to crucial research to find treatments for HIV and other health threats,” the group stated. The cancelled UCSF contract ostensibly connected fetal tissue research with potential HIV treatments.

However, scholars dispute this conclusion. “Over 100 years, [such research] has not resulted in any therapy or treatment that requires these tissues to begin with,” said Sander Lee.

Adult Stem Cells Proving Effective

The Trump Administration decision follows a months-long audit by HHS officials. Scientists from all sides weighed in during listening sessions, public hearings and an extensive review of current research.

Marjorie Dannenfelser

Marjorie Dannenfelser

“The process was one of great integrity,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “Secretary Azar, Dr. Francis Collins and the White House really studied this over quite a long period of time.

“[They] listened to pointed and difficult questions within the field of science, from the scientists on the phone today and many others.”

Prentice sums up their conclusions. “There has not been a single successful report of using aborted fetal tissue to treat or cure any disease,” he stated. Their first move came last year. In September, HHS cancelled a contract with fetal tissue supplier Advanced Bioscience Resources, Inc.

At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), twenty million in intramural research funding will now be used to develop new models of research. Adult stem cell treatments such as bone marrow transplants have become widespread in recent years.

“The steps made today will provide an incentive for the development of new and more modern scientific discoveries,” said Sander Lee.

“We look forward to more … It’s going to mean not only ethical use of taxpayer funds but better science.”

Since its founding in 2013, the Kansas City-based Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center has pioneered ethically-grounded stem cell research. Their advanced clinic and laboratory research may stand to benefit from the reallocated taxpayer funds.

According to Lozier Institute, adult stem cell treatments have resulted in improved health for now over one million people inflicted by 73 different conditions.

Next Steps to Upholding Ethics

The HHS decision cuts essentially 15 percent of publicly funded fetal tissue research. Rather than imposing a wholesale ban on the practice, analysts call it a first step.

“The administration has decided to foreclose this trafficking and use of fetal tissue for the intramural types of grants,” said Prentice. “They’re moving now to take a harder look at the extramural grants.” That next step would represent $120 million dollars in taxpayer funds this fiscal year.

Current grants to universities and other research entities, including those involved in fetal tissue research, are unaffected.

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For grant renewals, a newly formed ethics advisory board will evaluate “whether NIH should fund the research project.”

“We must remember that extramural research being done using aborted fetal tissue can also be done using better alternatives,” said Sander Lee. “I strongly encourage a swift review of extramural funds [and] a sunset date for federal funding be [set], which is in the best interest of everyone.

“Ethical science that respects the dignity of life is always the best science.”


Learn more about stem cell research in the video below. Explore The Stream’s complete coverage of medical issues, and sign up to receive top stories every week. 

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