During the Bush Administration I wrote in opposition to the ban of federally supported research using fetal tissue stem cells. At the time, my father was dying for Parkinson’s — just one of millions of people who were suffering from conditions and diseases that could be cured or relieved with the help of such research. Now, The Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board, appointed by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, has blocked virtually every application for fetal tissue research to the HHS on ethical grounds. The result is the same. It is an effective ban disguised as an ethics review and the result is the lost of vital time and research for millions who are suffering in this country. It also places a political chokehold on academic work that will put our country at a disadvantage with virtually every other country pursuing new cures and treatments based on fetal tissue research.
Of the 15 members on the board, 10 reported have pronounced opposition to abortion fetal tissue research, and stem cell research. The board is chaired by Paige Comstock Cunningham, the interim president of Taylor University, an evangelical Christian university in Upland, Indiana.
Only one is a clear advocate for fetal tissue research. It is therefore not surprising that the board yesterday recommended barring all but one in a group of applications to do medical research using human fetal tissue donated after elective abortions. It is important to note that all of these applications from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), were already approved on a scientific basis as promising and well based in science.
The only proposal that passed by a nine-to-six vote was an attempt to develop an alternative to human fetal tissue.
I understand the deep-seated opposition to abortion by many in the country. It is a national debate that continues to rage. However, abortion is legal and protected in this country. Women do not get abortions in order to donate fetal tissue. This science uses donated material to try to save others rather than discarding the material. If you oppose abortion, we have a political system to oppose it and fight for change. This is using science as a surrogate for politics. The fact is that we have this material which will be discarded at hospitals but can be used to help others with debilitating and lethal conditions. At a time when we are losing so many to Covit-19, we do not need our government closing avenues for valuable new treatment and cures for a wide variety of illnesses.
Congress should act to prevent medical science from becoming “politics by other means” at the HHS.