On April 16, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) eliminated the requirement that applicants for federal research funding submit to a fetal-tissue ethics review. Since December 2019, proposals involving tissue from aborted babies had to receive a green light from an Ethics Advisory Board. At that board’s only meeting during the Trump presidency, it rejected 13 of 14 applications.
By disbanding the ethics board, says HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the Biden administration is permitting scientists “to do the research it takes to make sure that we are incorporating innovation and getting all of those types of treatments and therapies out there to the American people.”
Fetal Tissue Research: Proponents Call Move a Shift Toward Science
The scientific community praised Friday’s announcement, which came from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Christine Mummery, president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, says researchers appreciate “that the Biden administration is lifting the arbitrary restrictions on promising biomedical research using human fetal tissue.” She calls the decision a “return to evidence-based policy-making,” saying the NIH needs to be “insulated from political interference.”
Researcher Lawrence Goldstein, the only ethics-board member who had worked with fetal tissue, calls the ban reversal “an unqualified win.” He says he hopes projects that the board had “killed…will come back” and that we won’t “enter an era of policy yo-yo as we change administrations.”
A group of Congressional Democrats also praised the new administration’s decision to remove “arbitrary barriers” to research. The NIH says applicants for federal grants or contracts still must “obtain informed consent from the donor” of human fetal tissue, may not pay for the tissue, and must follow all other federal, state and university guidelines.
Opponents: ‘A Gross Violation of Human Dignity’
Pro-life groups spoke out against the reversal, with the National Right to Life Committee labeling it a “sickening decision.” Carol Tobias, the group’s president, says, “Tiny human babies are aborted by abortionists and then exploited to be farmed for their organs and tissue for use in experiments.”
The reversal will lead to “a gross violation of human dignity,” says Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action. “The government has no business creating a marketplace for aborted baby body parts.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, also condemns the change, calling Secretary Becerra “a fanatical advocate for abortion.” The new administration is forcing “American taxpayers to pay for barbaric experiments using the body parts of aborted babies,” says Perkins. “Instead of using ethical and effective alternatives, Biden is choosing to reinstate a policy that traffics in the grizzly remains of what would have been our next generation.” Fetal remains, Perkins notes, “have not been used to create the cure of a single disease.”
David Prentice, research director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, says this reversal is “a sad turn of events” marked by “poor ethics and poor science.” The result, he says, is that American researchers now will be “trafficking in aborted fetal tissue for antiquated experiments.”
Prentice, who had served on the Ethics Advisory Board, adds that adult stem cells are much more effective for research than are fetal tissues. His pro-life institute is “reviewing all possible avenues” regarding a legal challenge, he says.