Research Papers and Essays
Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research
Thesis Statement: President Clinton did the right thing in 1993, when he repealed the ban on federally funded fetal tissue transplantation research.
I. New treatment options for patients suffering from degeneration of neural tissue are requried
A. Human neural tissue does not regenerate
B. Transplantation of tissue can repair damaged neural circuits
C. Most transplanted neural tissue is rejected by the host
D. Alternative treatment methods have not been successful
II. Fetal tissue transplantation research has shown enormous promise for treatment of degeneration of neural tissue
A. Fetal tissue does not carry protein markers and is usually not rejected by host
B. Fetal tissue transplantation research has resulted in many success stories
1. Fetal tissue transplantation has successfully restored sight to the blind
2. Fetal tissue transplantation has successfully treated infertility
3. Fetal tissue transplantation has successfully treated Alzheimer's Disease
4. Fetal tissue transplantation has shown potential for treating spinal cord injuries
III. Current law regarding use of tissue from aborted fetuses effectively addresses ethical questions.
A. Federal law strictly controls use of live unborn fetuses
1. Researchers may not be involved in timing, method or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy
2. No inducements, monetary or otherwise, may be offered to the mother to terminate the pregnancy for purposes of performing research
B. Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) provides framework for tissue donation
1. The UAGA has been enacted by all 50 states and the District of Columbia
2. The UAGA includes a provision for allowing the use of fetal remains in research
IV. Arguments against use of fetal tissue do not warrant discontinuing research
A. Fetal tissue research will not encourage the buying and selling of fetal tissues for profit
B. Fetal tissue research will not increase numbers of abortions
Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research
The motorcycle accident had broken Jeff's back and severed his spinal cord. The doctors said he would never walk again. That was over fifteen years ago. I remember how the accident changed my friend; how he raised hell when a government agency didn't provide handicap access and how he became an advocate of fetal tissue transplantation research. I remember Jeff's outrage at the 1988 Department of Health and Human Services' moratorium on funding research projects which involved transplanting tissue from electively aborted children. The ban on federal funding for fetal tissue research, enacted during the Reagan Administration, severely restricted development of treatments that had already shown enormous promise of sight for the blind, a cure for Alzheimer's and hope for those with spinal cord injuries. President Clinton did the right thing in January 1993, when he repealed the ban on federally funded fetal tissue transplantation research (United States Federal Register).
Much human suffering results from degeneration of neural tissue, either from aging, disease or accident. Once damaged, most human neural tissue will not regenerate, so repair to damage in the spinal cord, brain and other neural areas is severely limited. Scientists have been trying for years to find ways to trick the neurons into repair and regrowth. Barring regeneration of the original tissue, some scientists have recently been attempting to transplant healthy neural tissue into areas where significant damage has occurred, allowing the re-establishment of damaged neural circuits. Transplants are based on the hope that rapidly dividing cells will be able to replace specialized cells lost as a result of disease or accident. There have been several barriers to be overcome, including the development of technical expertise to remove and transplant such tissue without causing damage to it or to other tissues in the host, and the subsequent immuniological complication that results whenever any foreign tissue is transplanted into a human.
These problems may be solved through the use of fetal tissue. Such tissue is desirable because it grows quickly, is adaptable and, since it does not carry protein markers, is less likely than adult tissue to cause a rejection reaction. In the early months after conception, fetal tissue is rapidly growing and has very little ability to induce an antibody response because it has not yet developed many surface antigens. Fetal tissue is not fully differentiated and will adapt fairly well to the signals received from surrounding tissue in a host, growing and differentiating to function as part of the host organ. In addition, it can be successfully cryopreserved and reanimated.
The successful use of fetal tissue as a treatment for Alzheimer's Disease has been widely reported in the news media. Other success stories include the Prasad Eye Institute in India, where approximately one million fetal photoreceptor cells were injected into the retina of four totally blind patients. About four months after the transplant, one patient could "count fingers held before his face, recognize faces, see a plate of food in front of him and identify the second-largest figure on an eye chart 20 feet away" (Knox C1). Fetal tissues can also be valuable in the treatment of infertility. Heather Meeker reported that "fetal sheep ovaries have been successfully transplanted into adult animals by a team of Scottish scientists" (175). This technique involves transplanting a fetal ovary into the recipient, where it grows to maturity and begins producing ova. Ovulation thus takes place naturally within the recipient. Additionally, another recent experiment successfully demonstrated the ability of fetal tissues to repair spinal cord injuries. The spinal cords on several rats were severed. In rats that received treatment with fetal neural tissue, limited movement and muscle control in the lower body was regained. This was widely recognized as a significant development and is perceived as the only hope for patients with spinal cord injuries (Science 48).
The use of unborn children for transplantation raises some profound ethical issues for policy makers, however current law and bioethical procedures are sufficiently addressing these issues. The use of live unborn fetuses in research is strictly controlled by federal law and regulation, in particular 45 CFR Part 46 requires that "fetal material or cells, tissue or organs excised from a dead fetus shall be conducted only in accordance with any applicable state or local laws regarding such activities.". (qtd. in Hardin). Two stipulations from federal regulations covering fetal tissue research also apply to research using fetal tissue: the researcher may not be involved in the timing, method, and procedures used to terminate the pregnancy; and no inducements, monetary or otherwise, may be offered to the mother to terminate pregnancy for purposes of performing research.
The use of fetal tissue is also regulated under individual state laws. All fifty states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) which authorizes "the gift of all or part of a human body after death for specific purposes" (qtd. in Hardin). The Act includes a provision allowing for the use of fetal remains for research. The only limitation is that a woman may not designate the recipient of the tissue as may be done with other organs.
In its unyielding opposition to abortion for any purpose, the pro-life movement rejects the use of electively aborted tissues for any purpose. This group accounts for the only substantial opposition to use of fetal tissues in transplantation research. Their primary argument against the use of fetal tissue is that it may encourage women to become pregnant for the sole purpose of aborting their children for their tissues and they forecast an increase in abortions to meet the demand for fetal parts.
Judi Brown questions "How appealing it might be to a woman who is distressed over a pregnancy if she heard that by submitting her child to death by abortion, a great good would come from that child's death and sick people would be made well again!" (Brown). Why do these folks presume it is better to saddle anyone making the difficult decision to abort a pregnancy with a lifetime of guilt than to allow them to feel some comfort in the fact that someone may actually benefit from their decision? This type of rhetoric merely clouds the true issues.
The fact remains that "there is adequate available fetal tissue from elective abortions to meet the need" (Rae 28) and that existing law prohibits any commerce in fetal tissues. Until the research results in common treatments and demand for fetal tissues increases beyond available supply, there is no evidence to suggest that research will encourage the commercial exploitation of women or the buying and selling of fetal tissues for profit.
The morality of abortion is a question not likely solved in the near future. For now, abortion is legal. Research utilizing legally obtained fetal tissue is legal and bioethical and medical research professionals are making substantial progress within the existing framework.
My friend, Jeff now holds PhD and is a clinical psychologist, but he still doesn't walk. Someday fetal tissue transplantation may make that possible. President Clinton did indeed do the right thing by giving my friend hope.
Brown, Julie. (1996). Recycling Babies: The Practice of Fetal Tissue Research. American Life League (On-Line) http://user.mc.net/dougp.
Hardin, John A. (1991, March). Fetal Tissue Research Position Statement. Paper presented at the meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, Washington, DC.
Knox, Richard A. (1996, November 19). Fetal Tissue used to Restore Sight. The Boston Globe, pp. C1.
Meeker, Heather J. "Issues of Property, Ethics and Consent in the Transplantation of Fetal Reproductive Tissue." High Technology Law Review 9.2 (1994): 175.
Rae, Scott B. "Spare Parts From the Unborn: The Ethics of Fetal Tissue Transplantation." Christian Research Journal. Fall (1991): 28.
"Science: Cures From the Womb." Newsweek 22 Feb. 1993: 48+.
United States Federal Register. Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research; Federal Funding (Presidential Memorandum of January 22, 1993). 93-2974 Washington: GPO, 1993.
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