Trump administration bans medical research using fetal tissue

Grant Boone
June 7, 2019

The Trump administration on Wednesday ended funding of medical research by government scientists using fetal tissue and canceled a multimillion-dollar contract for a university laboratory that uses the material to test new HIV therapies.

"The rules that have been in place since 1993 have been very careful to try and make sure that the possibility of research use of fetal tissue, never induced any woman to choose to have an abortion", said Greely.

In December 2018, NIH announced a $20 million funding opportunity for research to develop, demonstrate, and validate experimental models that do not rely on human fetal tissue from elective abortions.

The move met with cheers from pro-life activists who have sought to end the practice, spurred by the 2015 undercover investigation by the Center for Medical Research's David Daleiden into Planned Parenthood's involvement in supplying aborted fetal tissue to labs. It represents a victory for antiabortion advocates key to his political base, who immediately lauded the change, and a major disappointment to scientists who say the tissue collected from elective abortions has been instrumental to unlocking the secrets of diseases that range from AIDS to cancers to Zika, as well as to developing vaccines and treatments for illnesses such as Parkinson's disease. The contract was for "research involving human fetal tissue from elective abortions", the agency said.

The ban affects only research being done at labs sponsored by the National Institute of Health and doesn't affect private funding.

Thedecision to tighten federal support for an ideologically polarizing aspect of medical researchwas made by President Trump himself, according to a source familiar with the decision-making. HHS says its decision follows a review that began last September of all government research projects involving fetal tissue.

As a result of the review, the administration is letting it's contract with the University of California, San Francisco expire on Wednesday.

Any new grant proposals at external bodies like universities would be subject to an ethics advisory board before they could receive new government funds.

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New applications for grants and funding will have to undergo scientific and ethical review. "NIH has spent $120 million a year on grisly, unethical experiments involving the hearts, livers, bones, and brains harvested from babies too young and vulnerable to speak for themselves", said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

The government has funded research using fetal tissue for decades, under administrations of both political parties.

As part of the the administration's fetal tissue review, officials at the White House, HHS, and the NIH have focused on the contentious question of whether there are effective alternatives to fetal tissue in such research.

"March for Life applauds the administration for halting funding for research that requires aborted fetal organs and tissue", she said.

Trump's Administration first threatened this research last December.

For months, the administration has been dangling partial permissions for the use of fetal tissue in front of research institutions.

Aside from the canceled UCSF contract, no university-led programs will be affected for the time being, the administration said.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the use of fetal tissue for research in the United States dates back to the 1930s and has been used by the National Institutes of Health since the 1950s. A few days later, NIH pivoted and extended the contract in two 90-day increments.

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