Part III- Babies in the lab
The last couple blogs we’ve been looking at some of the underside of the abortion industry that goes beyond the insidious ways of Planned Parenthood and into the universities, medical labs, and even our bodies. Much of this was highlighted through current research by Vicki Evans, although aspects of this have been known by many for some time. One aspect that Evans addresses is the subject of fetus farming. The name itself plants a horrific image in our minds, and it should because it’s exactly what it sounds like, literally creating life to destroy it. The tentacles of this industry of death extend throughout all of society and have roots in stem cell research. Many of us have heard about this and even ethical applications of it, but the way in which stem cells play into the abortion industry are the underpinnings of fetus farming.
Several states support stem cell research, despite a ban on federal funding in place until President Obama lifted most restrictions shortly after taking office last year. (Please click this link to see the latest on this, from the last week of August 2012) According to the Council of State Governments, adult stem cells, such as bone marrow transplants, are simply not as useful to researchers because “adult cells lack the ability divide multiple times, have a shorter life expectancy, and may not be able to develop into as many tissues as embryonic cells” (Guillory 29). The National Conference of State Legislators points out that California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, “encourage embryonic stem cell research,” while South Dakota “strictly forbids research on embryos regardless of the source.”
The distinction between embryonic and fetal cell research is a day. Generally, stem cell research has been allowed on embryos of 14 days or less. This number was imposed by the National Institute of Health Human Embryo Research Panel in 1994 because “14 days appears to be the limit after which twinning does not occur. Hence, before this date, it is more difficult to consider an embryo as a distinct, developing individual. Second, 14 days is a period before the development of the primitive streak, which eventually develops into the embryonic neural system… [T]his choice reflects an argument that the early embryo before 14 days of development is not the equivalent of a fetus or person and, thus, may be used in research under certain additional conditions.” (Source) William Saletan investigated types of stem cell research in his five part series “The Organ Factory” in Slate and notes that “if it isn’t an individual, it can’t have a soul or be a person, so it’s eligible for research.”
Saletan’s comment is disturbing, of course, but he says actually we need to extend limits beyond 14 days for the benefit of science and saving lives, regardless of the sacrifice of a pre-born child, noting that the “medical definition of an embryo: ‘the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception.’ By drawing a bright line between the embryo and the fetus we avoid the moral perils of ‘fetus farming.’” (Source) He says in one column “In other words, ethics said no, but science said yes. And science was just beginning to speak.” He adds later:
Ethics committees have generally forbidden implantation of embryos used in research. They’ve done this to draw a bright line between embryos for procreation and embryos for research. The line assured us that research embryos weren’t really potential people, since they lacked the womb necessary for development. It also spared us the trouble of figuring out how many days or weeks we should let them grow. (Source)
A 1998 Newsweek article noted that “Because of a 1995 congressional ban on the use of federal money for research in which a human embryo is “subjected to risk of injury or death,” all embryo experiments are funded privately–which means, usually, by a biotech company.” While some of this work is medical research that scientists publish, Newsweek also reports that “80 percent of research using unborn humans is ineligible for federal funding, and thus can be kept secret. Many felt that President Obama’s reversal of stem-cell funding was not enough because of this ban, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which means that “even though federal funding can now go to the study of existing stem cell lines, government-funded scientists cannot create new lines, because they cannot create or destroy embryos.”
However, what the biotech companies do may be a different story. The Newsweek article continues with a startling assertion:
Now it seems that embryo harvesting has taken a darker turn. Spare embryos are generally inferior to those that fertility doctors implant; imperfect or abnormal embryos might not “work” in an experiment. As a result, “a number of” biotech firms, says fetal researcher Gary Hodgen of Eastern Virginia Medical School, are using anonymous “gamete donors.” These are men and women who provide sperm or eggs. The company fertilizes the latter with the former. Presto: embryos to order, and the beginning of Orwellian “embryo farming.”
Studies such as this one, which details the improvements in patients with Parkinson’s Disease who are treated with aborted fetal tissue to a degree of success, ignite this debate further because many believe that that the need to cure diseases should allow for a bending of the ethics of the pre-born. Saletan discusses this point in relation to a doctor trying to replicate pregnancy stages in a lab and finding it too complicated: “That’s a big problem if, like her, you want a baby. But if all you want is tissue, who cares? You can tell yourself what we already tell ourselves about unwanted in vitro embryos: They’re doomed anyway. Patients’ lives are at stake. We can’t let personal morality get in the way of science. We can’t wait. “
Robert P. George from Princeton University writes in an article, “Fetal Attraction” (2005), that in his role on the President’s Council on Bioethics he “fear[s] that the long-term goal is indeed to create an industry in harvesting late embryonic and fetal body parts for use in regenerative medicine and organ transplantation.” Discussing fetus farming, George says that embryonic stem cell research’s tendency to generate dangerous tumors encourages fetus farming because of its “real therapeutic potential” adding, “it is likely true that stem cells, tissues, and organs harvested from human beings at, say, 16 or 18 weeks or later could be used in the treatment of diseases” (13). And where do we get 16 or 18 week old fetuses?
Aborted clones are a likely answer.
Next up, we will look more deeply at the issue of fetal farming and cloning, and why that’s a very present issue in our “choice-based” society.
*Evans, V. (2009). Commercial markets created by abortion: Profiting from the fetal distribution chain. Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, Rome.
George, RP. (2005, October). Fetal Attraction. The Weekly Standard, 11(3), 12-14. Retrieved May 28, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 905989081).
Guillory, K. (2006). Stemming Research. State News (Council of State Governments), 49(9), 28. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Editor’s note: We ran this series originally in 2010; this version is updated slightly and will expand it.