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U.S. taxpayers have spent $280 million on fetal tissue research

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WASHINGTON, D.C., August 19, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – U.S. taxpayers were on the hook for more than $280 million in fetal tissue research from 2011 to 2014, says a new report – and the tissue sometimes came from aborted babies.

As originally reported by The Associated Press (AP), 97 organizations received more than $280 million to conduct research using fetal tissue. Among them are Vanderbilt University and St. Jude's Research Hospital.

A spokesperson for St. Jude told LifeSiteNews that the fetal tissue research industry often doesn't know whether fetal tissue is coming from aborted babies or from babies who are miscarried. But while the AP reported that elective abortions in the 1960s were the basis for vaccines in Germany for illnesses such as Hepatitis A, German measles, chickenpox, and rabies, two pro-life ethics researchers told LifeSiteNews that positive research results cannot be justified when it comes to using aborted babies' fetal tissue for research.

"Good ends do not justify evil means," said Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., who is the director of education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center. "Even if significant scientific breakthroughs occur using illicitly gained tissues from fetal corpses, this does not ethically sanitize the procedure of tissue procurement or justify any continuation of the practice."

The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC)'s Brendan Foht, who is the assistant editor of the EPPC's journal The New Atlantis, likewise condemned the use of aborted babies for research. "Even when the researchers are not involved with the abortion, it is still unethical to participate in such research. A morally serious medical research enterprise will not try to benefit from the grave evil of abortion, but will seek to avoid any complicity with it."

Both Pacholczyk and Foht also said that researchers have obligations to find out how tissue was obtained. "If researchers do not know the origins of cells and tissues they use in research, they have a duty to find out and determine those origins," said Pacholczyk. Researchers "will sometimes need to do so simply to be able to write up the 'Materials and Methods' section describing their research results for publication."

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"If researchers receive fetal parts without knowing where they are coming from, how do they know if the companies they are receiving fetal tissue from are following federal laws that regulate what can be funded by the federal government?" asked Foht. He noted that such laws include "informed consent, the types of abortions done, [and] 'valuable consideration'" – all of which are laws that Planned Parenthood is accused of breaking with its fetal tissue partnerships.

The researchers disagreed on whether miscarried babies can be used in ethical medical research. "If valid informed consent is obtained from the parents following a natural or spontaneous miscarriage, there is no moral problem with using the tissues from the child's corpse for research. This would be equivalent to consenting to an organ donation from their deceased child," said Pacholczyk.

However, Foht said that such an action "is ethically questionable."

"Unlike adult organ donors, these unborn children would not have had an opportunity to agree prior to their death to have their bodies used in this way, and parents under these circumstances of profound loss and grief are not in a good position to consent to the use of their children's bodies for medical research," he said.

Neither Vanderbilt nor St. Jude responded to multiple requests for comment on the ethics of their research, related to whether they support using fetal tissue from aborted babies. Pacholczyk said that "valid informed consent cannot be obtained" if tissue was received from an aborted child because a mother who signed paperwork "would have already categorically demonstrated that she does not have the best interests of her child in mind, having arranged for the taking of that child's life."

"From the ethical point of view," said Pacholczyk, who wrote on this subject in The Boston Pilot, a mother "has disqualified herself from being able to give valid informed consent on behalf of her now-deceased child."

The AP reports that "the Vanderbilt University Medical Center received $4.3 million in 2011 and $5.7 million in 2012," and that "St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis also received an NIH grant of $403,200 in 2011 to research treatments for retinal tumors."

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