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The Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center (Building 10), National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

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WASHINGTON, D.C., August 4, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Members of the National Institutes of Health’s advisory board on the ethics of research using tissue obtained from abortions were revealed Friday when they met for a day-long virtual hearing.

Eleven of the 15 members of the Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board are known to oppose the use of aborted baby body parts in research.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced last June it was canceling another contract that funded research using aborted baby parts at taxpayer expense, and that it would establish new ethics guidelines for review of future proposals.

In February, HHS Secretary Alex Azar established the advisory board to review NIH research grant applications and research and development contract proposals involving human fetal tissue, and to report to him whether this use is ethical and should be funded by the HHS.

The board will also submit its recommendations to the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions, and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The advisory board is required to submit its findings no later than August 18, according to an HHS spokesperson, and it will dissolve 30 days after it does so.

Under the law, the HHS secretary is charged with appointing the membership of the board.

The pro-life members of the advisory board are: 

  1. Chair Paige Comstock Cunningham, PhD, JD, Interim President, Taylor University, Indiana; 
  2. Greg Burke, MD, Catholic Medical Association Ethics Committee, Pennsylvania;
  3. Maureen Condic, PhD, associate professor, Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah; 
  4. G. Kevin Donovan MD, MA, Professor and Director, Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University Medical Center,Washington, D.C.;  
  5. Ashley K. Fernandes, MD, PhD, Associate Director, Center for Bioethics, Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Ohio State University College of Medicine/Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio; 
  6. C. Ben Mitchell, PhD, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy, Union University, Tennessee; 
  7. Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, PhD, Director of Education, National Catholic Bioethics Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 
  8. David Prentice, PhD, vice president and research director Charlotte Lozier Institute, Arlington Virginia; 
  9. Kathleen Marie Schmainda, Department of Biophysics, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 
  10. Ingrid Skop, MD, partner, Northeast Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates, Texas; 
  11. H. Joseph Yost, PhD, vice chairman for basic science research, department of pediatrics, University of Utah Molecular Medicine Program, Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Lawrence Goldstein is one board member who supports using human fetal tissue for research. He is a distinguished professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine Department of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego and scientific director of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla, California.

Other board members are: 

  • Ashwini Lakshmanan, MD, MS, MPH, Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine, USC Keck School of Medicine Section Head, Epidemiology and Outcomes, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Fetal and Neonatal Institute, Division of Neonatology, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Los Angeles, CA; 
  • Thomas Meade, MS, PhD, The Eileen M. Foell Endowed Professor of Cancer Research, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Molecular Biosciences, Neurobiology, Biomedical Engineering, and Radiology, Director of the Center for Advanced Molecular Imaging, Northwestern University, Illinois; 
  • Susan Kay Murphy, PhD, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Chief, Division of Reproductive Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina.

The board received written comments from the public on the subject, and also heard five oral presentations before it went into closed door sessions.

Professor Irving Weissman, head of regenerative medicine at Stanford University, Professor Robin Alta Charo, law and bioethics professor at the University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Tom Mariani, professor and vice chair for research in pediatrics at the University of Rochester, who presented on behalf of the American Thoracic Society, all argued in favor of using aborted baby body parts for research.

“Human fetal tissue research is the gold standard,” Weissman maintained, and Mariani agreed, stating that there are “currently no alternatives can replace the use of human fetal tissues for many contemporary research applications.”

“Almost every American has benefitted from the use of this tissue in the form of vaccines for polio, chicken pox, and rubella and research curing blindness and cancer,” likewise contended Alta Charo.

“Throwing up barriers will only limit our hope for curing devastating diseases and make innocent Americans collateral damage in the abortion wars,” said Alta Charo, a member of President Barak Obama’s transition team and one-time honoree of the National Abortion Rights Action League.

But two other public commentators disputed the need for and the ethics of using human fetal tissue.

“In the case of research that utilizes tissues and cells procured from electively aborted fetuses, the question of benefit to the research subject has an obvious answer: there is none,” said Dr. James Sherley, founder of adult stem cell research firm Asymmetrex and associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

While there are “strong ethical arguments against such research, even if it does not motivate fetal death,” he said, “if research with human fetal tissue is in any way, even in a small part, contributory to motivating elective abortions, then the ethical assessment is straightforward. Such research would constitute ethical misconduct that should not be funded by the U.S. government or allowed by a private agency either.”

He and his colleagues had provided “substantial evidence such ethical misconduct occurs frequently,” added Sherley.

“History is repeating itself as we exploit one group of human beings for the benefit of another group,” Dr. Maria Feeney told the board.

“This advisory board can choose to be at the forefront of promoting non-controversial tissue and cell sources. Science has only scratched the surface of what is possible with induced pluripotent stem cells,” said Feeney, who has a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry and is also an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

The board is undertaking its review as the Trump administration faces allegations its ban on using human fetal tissue is blocking coronavirus treatment research.

Notably, Kim Hasenkrug, an immunologist at the NIH Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, told the Washington Post in March that the pandemic “warrants an exemption to a ban imposed last year prohibiting government researchers from using tissue from abortions in their work.”

In April, more than 130 members of Congress urged Trump to maintain the “current fetal tissue research policy and to redirect funds toward ethical, successful alternatives to combat COVID-19,” and thanked the President for his “decisive actions to protect human life and human dignity on every front.”

Last month, however, the NIH approved 70 new embryonic stem cell lines for use in projects eligible for federally funded research. 

The June 2019 HHS policy specifically excluded projects using embryonic stem cells or embryonic cell lines in its definition of research involving human fetal tissue.