The Obama-appointed director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that human fetal tissue from elective abortions “will continue to be the mainstay” for federal research.
Science reports that NIH director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. noted Thursday that while research on alternatives to the use of aborted fetal tissue is “scientifically, highly justified,” fetal tissue will nevertheless “continue to be the mainstay.”
“There is strong evidence that scientific benefits can come from fetal tissue research, which can be done with an ethical framework,” Collins, a physician-geneticist, said. “There are certain areas where it’s hard to imagine that we would know what we know without the access to fetal tissue.”
The NIH director said the recent decision of its parent agency – the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – to audit federal purchases of aborted fetal tissue is being done simply “to assure the skeptics about the value of fetal tissue research [and] that this is being done according to all the appropriate regulations, guidelines, and oversight.”
“Even for somebody who is very supportive of the pro-life position, you can make a strong case for this being an ethical stance,” Collins told reporters. “That if something can be done with these tissues that might save somebody’s life downstream, perhaps that’s a better choice than discarding them.”
Asked by reporters what would happen if HHS determines contracts with fetal procurement companies did not meet those regulations, Collins said: “I guess we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”
The NIH director’s statements drew strong reactions from pro-life leaders, including Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who said Collins’ views are more reflective of the Obama administration.
“Dr. Francis Collins seems to have forgotten that he no longer works for President Obama and is now working for a pro-life president,” Perkins asserted. “His advocacy for using aborted baby parts in research is more reflective of the previous administration rather than the Trump administration, which has consistently advanced the sanctity of human life.”
Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser called for the Trump HHS to “correct” Collins for his statements that are “out of step” with the pro-life Trump administration and the base of the Republican Party.
“Francis Collins’ remarks to Science magazine this week put him at odds with HHS and the whole Trump Administration in the audit process and begs the question of whether anything can truly change while he’s in charge at NIH,” Dannenfelser said.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America called upon the Trump administration to replace Collins in light of his “continued support of inhumane fetal tissue research.”
“We should no longer allow abortion vendors to profit from selling the body parts of infants who did not survive a visit to Planned Parenthood,” Hawkins said. “A civil society does not traffic in human remains.”
Prior to Collins’ comments, some pro-life members of Congress were encouraged last week when NIH announced it would spend up to $20 million on alternatives to the use of fetal tissue from elective abortions for research.
In its announcement, NIH said in the near future it would be seeking grant applications for the development of “models that closely mimic and can be used to faithfully model human embryonic development or other aspects of human biology, for example, the human immune system, that do not rely on the use of human fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions.”
NIH continued that while human fetal tissue and embryonic stem cell-derived systems have been used for researching human development and diseases, “new technologies raise the potential of reconstituting these model systems without fetal tissue yielding more replicable and reproducible system for broader uses.”
However, in his comments Thursday, Collins said that even if alternatives are found, “you’re going to have to compare it to the current standard, which is using fetal tissue.”
Collins provided his comments just as a House Oversight subcommittee was holding what turned out to be a highly combative hearing to explore alternatives to the use of fetal tissue for research.
Dr. Tara Sander Lee of the Charlotte Lozier Institute testified that human fetal tissue was never needed for research because of viable alternatives such as adult stem cells.
“We do not need fetal body parts from aborted babies to achieve future scientific and medical advancements,” Lee said in her prepared testimony. “Very little research is actually being done that currently relies on abortion-derived fetal tissues.”
“After over 100 years of research, no therapies have been discovered or developed that require aborted fetal tissue,” she continued. “History has shown us that we never needed fetal tissue.”
Similarly, cell and developmental biologist Dr. David Prentice testified:
There is no scientific necessity for the continued taxpayer funding of fresh fetal tissue, organs, and body parts from induced abortion. Ample scientific alternatives exist, and modern alternatives have overtaken any need for fresh fetal tissue. Moreover, the practice of using fetal tissue from induced abortion raises significant ethical problems, not least of which is the nebulous interpretation of the term “valuable consideration” or compensation for expenses in the harvest and processing of fetal organs and tissues. Taxpayer funding, which is what this discussion is really about, should go to successful, patient-focused alternatives.
A Democrat witness, Dr. Sally Temple of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, disagreed, saying that “fetal cells and tissue have unique properties that cannot always be replicated by other cell types.”
Temple said aborted fetal tissue was important to the study of conditions such as the Zika virus, as well as therapies for HIV and cancer.
According to Science, when pressed by subcommittee chairman Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, on how her view of aborted fetal tissue could be so drastically different from the other two experts, Temple took “a swipe at the other witnesses,” stating, “You need to really delve into the details, which is why we rely on experts in our community who are truly experts in fetal tissue models.”
In September, 85 members of Congress sent a letter to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — also an agency of HHS — protesting a $15,900 contract FDA had awarded to Advanced Bioscience Resources, Inc. (ABR), the objective of which was to acquire “fresh human fetal tissue” for the FDA’s ongoing research.
ABR had admitted to the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Senate Judiciary Committee – both investigating illegal fetal tissue trafficking – that it paid $60 for aborted babies and then sold their body parts at $325 per “specimen.”
While HHS ultimately terminated the contract with ABR, pro-life leaders said that “small first step” was nevertheless “completely inadequate” to achieve the goal of severing American taxpayers’ ties to the abortion industry.
“Pro-life voters across America reject the use of their tax dollars to purchase the ‘fresh’ body parts of unborn children and are looking for a pro-life policy change,” Dannenfelser said. “There is absolutely no moral or ethical justification for treating these children like commodities to be chopped up and sold piece-by-piece to anyone – especially the federal government with taxpayers footing the bill.”
Hawkins said it is “clear that the pro-life conviction of President Trump is not shared by NIH Director Collins, who should no longer be allowed to waste taxpayer dollars on inhumane fetal tissue research.”
“Being pro-life means supporting the lives of both the born and unborn – not sacrificing one to potentially save the other,” said Perkins.
“Collins has espoused a utilitarian stance that does not reflect the president or HHS’s pro-life and pro-science views,” he added. “Despite Dr. Collins’ preemptive statements, apparently designed to influence HHS’ review of fetal tissue research contracts, we anticipate HHS will continue to review and adopt policies that are consistent with the pro-life principles of the Trump administration.”