As people debate the undercover Planned Parenthood videos claiming that the clinic sells aborted fetal tissue “for profit,” scientists in the U.S. use fetal tissue cells to develop treatments for ailments such as neurological disorders, cancer, AIDS, and they have been doing this for decades.
Science considers fetal cells to be ideal as opposed to adult cells because they divide rapidly and are less likely to be rejected by the body when transplanted into patients.
“If researchers are unable to work with fetal tissue, there is a huge list of diseases for which researchers would move much more slowly, rather than quickly, to find their cause and how they can be cured,” Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said speaking to NPR.
From 2011 through 2014 alone, 97 research institutions — mostly universities and hospitals — received a total of $280 million in federal grants for fetal tissue research from the National Institutes of Health. A few institutions have consistently gotten large shares of that money, including Yale, the University of California and Massachusetts General Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard.
The U.S. government prohibits the sale of fetal tissue for profit and requires separation between researchers and the women who donate fetuses. Some schools go further, requiring written consent from donors.
Many major universities declined to make scientists available for interviews about their fetal tissue work, saying they fear for the researchers’ safety because the issue is so highly charged.
Research is underway for alternatives to fetal tissue, such as “reprogramming adult cells to their earlier forms. But as of now, nothing provides the advantages that fetal cells give researchers.
In another areas of combating disease, fetal cells are invaluable. Vaccines for hepatitis A, German measles, chickenpox, rabies, and others were developed using cell lines grown from tissue from two past abortions that were performed in the 1960s in England and in Sweden.
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