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HHS stops internal fetal tissue research

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WASHINGTON (BP) — Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and other pro-life leaders welcomed the Trump administration’s newly announced decision to halt internal research by a federal entity using tissue from electively aborted babies.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Wednesday (June 5) the discontinuation of research within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) involving human fetal tissue from elective abortions.

Regarding fetal tissue research, HHS also disclosed:

— The establishment of an ethics advisory board to review proposals for external experiments, such as at universities, using tissue from elective abortions and to recommend whether NIH should provide funding.

— The funding of efforts to develop and certify alternatives to the use of human tissue from elective abortions in HHS-supported research.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), noted he is “grateful for this action.” He described the new policy as “a significant step toward restoring medical ethics in research at NIH.”

“The bodies of children are not resources to be harvested,” Moore said in an ERLC news release. “We have learned troubling things in recent years about the relationship between the medical profession and the abortion industry. No government should exploit innocent human life as a means to an end for any purpose.”

Undercover videos in 2015 reportedly provided evidence that Planned Parenthood, the country’s No. 1 abortion provider, was trading in body parts from aborted babies. The secretly recorded videos appeared to show various Planned Parenthood executives discussing their sale of fetal parts, as well as their willingness to manipulate the lethal procedure to preserve organs for sale and use.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, called the HHS action “an important ethical and moral decision that will help shape our future as a nation to protect the life and dignity of every person.”

“Every human being should be treated with dignity and respect, no matter their age,” Lankford said in a written statement. “We cannot in one moment say that an unborn child is not a person but then recognize the humanity and value for the purpose of research.”

Research using tissue from aborted babies is not only unethical but ineffective, pro-life advocates noted. Fetal tissue research has not resulted in any clinical treatments, they said.

David Prentice — vice president and research director at the Charlotte Lozier Institute — said in a release that such sources as adult stem cells and iPS cells “have been used in the production of treatments, vaccines and medicines currently on the market; the key is that our government will now invest in effective research methods that do not rely on the destruction of human life.”

It is estimated NIH was to spend $120 million in fetal tissue research in the 2019 financial year before the announcement, according to the office of pro-life champion Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

The largest professional organization of stem cell researchers criticized the new HHS policy regarding internal research and expressed misgivings about the standards that the advisory board will use in reviewing funding requests for external research.

Doug Melton, president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, said fetal tissue research has saved millions of lives through the production of vaccines for such diseases as polio. Regarding HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, Melton said in a written statement the HHS policy will delay research and “set back the development of potential therapies.”

In its June 5 announcement, HHS said it discontinued in September 2018 a contract in which the federal Food and Drug Administration obtained tissue of aborted children from Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) for experimentations. At the time, HHS began a review of its research involving body parts from elective abortions to determine if it complied with the laws and regulations governing such experimentation.

The review led not only to the ban on NIH internal research but the decision not to extend further a contract with the University of California, San Francisco involving tissue from elective abortions. In its announcement, HHS said, “Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trumps administration.”

Funding for research on tissue from aborted babies has been a federal battleground for more than 30 years. A ban on federal funding of such research existed from 1988 to 1993, when President Clinton struck it down two days after he took office. The fight over federal funding has occurred at different points since then, while private funding of fetal tissue research is permitted.

In a September letter, Moore joined more than 40 other pro-life leaders in urging HHS Secretary Alex Azar to halt federal use of aborted baby tissue for research. The letter followed a report of the contract between the FDA and ABR.

The letter cited investigations by the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Senate Judiciary Committee that reported evidence of the violation of federal laws on the purchase and sale of fetal tissue. ABR was among the organizations referred for criminal investigation for possibly colluding with abortion facilities and potentially profiting from the sale of tissue from aborted babies, according to the letter.