Last year, the Trump administration halted most of the government-funded research utilizing preborn tissue and established a new advisory board within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to evaluate new research projects. Of the 14 projects that were submitted to the board, only one received a recommendation.
The process has been somewhat shrouded in mystery, as the members of the fetal board only became aware of each other last month. The group held its first virtual meeting at the end of July where it heard the various proposals.
Of the proposals, four received a vote of 14-1 against. According to The Washington Post, “The most common reason cited for recommending against funding a project was the contention that the researcher had not provided adequate ethical justification for using fetal tissue. Two proposals were rejected unanimously, with board members saying they were weak.”
The only project that received a positive vote was one designed to test and see if an alternative to preborn tissue would work.
Pro-life organizations welcomed the decision, due to the controversial and unethical nature of utilizing aborted preborn tissue in medical and scientific research.
“This was a serious review of the ethical considerations surrounding use of human fetal tissue in research by highly credentialed and distinguished professionals, following the process set out in federal law,” Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony group said to Science magazine. “We hope to see Secretary Azar adopt these recommendations.”
Pro-abortion groups, or those interested in utilizing preborn tissue in research, were less enthusiastic about the decisions. These groups were especially outraged that pro-life physicians and ethicists were included on the advisory board.
In a statement, the International Society for Stem Cell Research stated, “The evaluation process for research should be insulated from ideology and special interests. It is disheartening to see an ethics review perverted by an administration seeking to achieve a policy goal, a near ban on research with human fetal tissue. The Ethics Advisory Board was dominated by individuals who have opposed research using human fetal tissue. This is a stark departure from the traditional objective review process that evaluates the scientific merit and ethical rigor of proposals.”
“At a time when the US and the world should be employing every biomedical research avenue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a crucial tool for investigating viral diseases has been blocked by special interests. Crucial advances in biomedical research will be slowed because of the American restrictions on research using human fetal tissue. People may die unnecessarily because the administration has allowed an ideological special interest group to hijack biomedical research.”
Even a member of the board denounced the experience. Lawrence Goldstein, the only member that had actually used preborn tissue in research, said, “I think the whole thing is a travesty. They handpicked a board that wouldn’t approve very much, if anything. And they got the outcome that they wanted.”
This report has been sent to the Senate, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee for review. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has the opportunity to accept the findings of the committee, reverse some of the decisions or not act at all, which would be the same as denying funding.
Private funding of preborn tissue can still occur.
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