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The Trail of Fetal Body Parts in Scientific Papers

July 24, AD2015

baby, prolife, pro-life, family, nfp

Maybe the undercover investigation conducted by the Center for Medical Progress needed to happen so people could see and hear the gruesomeness of Planned Parenthood’s harvesting and sale of fetal body parts. Maybe it was too easy to ignore without video-taped evidence in plain, gory language. Maybe it is not enough to be outraged at abortion on its face because, I don’t know, killing is somehow worse if body parts are sold.

But anyone who has followed the Human Genome Project, cloning, genetic, evolution, and stem cell research knows that the use of fetal and embryonic body parts and tissues is nothing new. I am not complimenting myself for knowing about this. I have been interested in reading science papers for decades. Now I am urging more people to pay more attention because, while I remain unsure how to stop the horrific conduct in some areas of the scientific community, there is no doubt that information is a fundamental necessity. You cannot change what you do not know about.

Here, let me show you. This is how the information is presented in scientific literature.

Let’s say you woke up a few days ago, poured the dark coffee your husband made you, and sat down with your laptop to read your weekly subscription to Science journal. (Yes, I subscribe, and I struggle with that, but I do not know any other way to keep up with the weekly papers.) The July 3 issue had a News Feature, “Of Mice and Men: Researchers are adding human DNA to mice to pinpoint sequences that helped define our species.” The image bore two mouse embryos with blue brains. There is no jargon here in this title shrouding what is going on. Researchers have to get human DNA from someone to be able to add it to mice embryos and grow them. Where do you think the human DNA to add to mouse embryos comes from?

The article is a summary of recent research comparing the human genome to the chimp genome because chimps are the closest evolutionary relative of humans. Researchers want to know what genes are responsible for the origin of our species. When they identify DNA sequences specific to humans and not found in chimps, they then try to insert those genes into developing mouse embryos to see what effect they have on the physiology of the mouse. In this case, the interest is on what caused the brain to enlarge and become more complex.

Midway through the article, there is a discussion of 56 genes found in humans that increase brain size. These genes are not found in mice at all, so inserting them into mouse embryos makes a good test. But there is the clue. Think about it: How do they know those genes increase brain size? They have to prepare specimens at different developmental stages. Again, this is simple logic. Not surprisingly, this sentence is found in the Science article: “When they measured how active these genes are in fetal human brain stem cells…” There you go. The citation for the paper is also given, as this is customary. A researcher named Wieland Huttner, a developmental neurobiologist at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and his team published an earlier paper in Science online in February of this year.

That information is enough to know that right now fetal brains are used in research. “Ah,” you say, “but I do not subscribe to scientific journals.” Fair point.

There was an online write up about the paper back in February, not behind any pay wall. Catch the clue again, in plain language but with a tad more detail:

“The new study began when Wieland Huttner, a developmental neurobiologist at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and his colleagues started closely examining aborted human fetal tissue and embryonic mice.”

The actual scientific paper is linked at the very beginning of the write-up and is behind a pay wall. However, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has a copy accessible to the public: “Human-specific gene ARHGAP11B promotes basal progenitor amplification and neocortex expansion.” This, of course, is scientific language, but since you know something about what the paper is about, you can see that the title is more or less “some gene makes the brain size increase.”

Doing scientific lab work is much like cooking. The Materials and Methods sections, which all full scientific papers have, are kind of like cookbooks. They have the recipes for making the stuff. There is often not enough room to detail all the steps in a full paper, so sometimes the rest of the story is given in Supplemental Materials. Science journal puts those in a separate document. The link is found at the end of the paper. Here it is, and you have to download the Materials and Methods to read them. Right at the top is this paragraph.

Human tissue. Human fetal brain tissue was obtained from the Klinik und Poliklinik für Frauenheilkunde und Geburtshilfe, Universitätsklinikum Carl Gustav Carus of the Technische Universität Dresden, following elective pregnancy termination and informed written maternal consents, and with approval of the local University Hospital Ethical Review Committees. The age of fetuses ranged from 12 to 13 wpc (12 wpc, n = 1; 13 wpc, n = 2) as assessed by ultrasound measurements of crown-rump length and other standard criteria of developmental stage determination. Human fetuses were placed on ice immediately after abortion and neocortices were dissected in ice-cold Tyrode’s Solution (TS) and either processed for DiI labeling or fixed for at least 3 h at room temperature followed by 24 h at 4°C in 4% PFA in 120 mM phosphate buffer (pH 7.4). The 16 wpc human brain used for immunofluorescence analyses (shown in Fig. S8) was obtained from Novogenix Laboratories (Torrance, CA), following informed consent and elective termination. Developmental age was determined by ultrasound.

Catch that? Novogenix Laboratories in CA is the company who comes to Planned Parenthood, signs the patients up, and collects the tissues to sell to researchers. They are mentioned in the Center for Medical Progress video.

“So Heather, a Novogenix person would come to the site, and our staff would sign the patients up, and get consent. Heather would look at the tissue and take what she required…”

Like I said, nothing new. It is global, organized, common, and considered ethical.

Let’s keep going though. Look at the Reference and Notes section. Scientific papers have to be situated in the fuller context of their fields, so they all have references extensively going back in time. The references in the paper above go back to 1987.

Or just do some more internet searching, particularly in the field of human genome research. Here is a paper from 2001 in China and published in Genome Research journal. You do not need to understand the full title to know what “Human Fetal Liver” means.

Gene Expression Profiling in Human Fetal Liver and Identification of Tissue- and Developmental-Stage-Specific Genes through Compiled Expression Profiles and Efficient Cloning of Full-Length cDNAs

This one is from 1991, again in Science, published by J. Craig Venter’s team.

Complementary DNA Sequencing: Expressed Sequence Tags and Human Genome Project

Quoting: “We chose three commercial human brain cDNA libraries made from mRNA isolated from the hippocampus and temporal cortex of a 2-year-old female and from a fetal brain.” The reference is number 9, and if you look at the end of the paper, you see the source for the specimens. This time it is a company named Stratgene, which was acquired by a company called Agilent Technologies (more internet searching).

Now go to Agilent’s site and search “fetal.” There you go, a product list! Human Fetal Brain, Human Fetal Colon, Human Fetal Heart, Human Fetal Bladder, Human Fetal Kidney, Human Fetal Lung, Human Fetal Skin, Human Fetal Aorta, Human Fetal Skeletal Muscle. And that is just page 1.

For good measure, here is an article from 1972 in the journal of the International Pediatric Research Foundation, Inc.

Development of Mammalian Sulfur Metabolism: Absence of Cystathionase in Human Fetal Tissues

They used fetal liver and brain from specimens at 6 weeks of gestation; says so in the first line of the abstract. Their purpose? “These studies suggest that cysteine is an essential amino acid in human fetuses and in infants for some time after birth, especially if they were born prematurely.”

So now you know. What do we do about it? Well, I assure you that getting angry over a sensational video from an undercover investigator will not make this end, but maybe it is a start to getting people to pay more attention.

In no way do I mean to scold anyone for not reading scientific papers before. What I hope I have done is encourage you to be confident that you can read them. You can see why it is important in this particular matter, but reading scientific papers is also a useful skill for any area of science you want to follow. If you are not a researcher doing the work, then reading the papers is the next best way to know what is done.

There will need to be pleas from us for the harvesting of fetal organs to stop, pleas to stop the research, pleas to stop funding the research, pleas to stop publishing the research, but the pleas will be ineffective if a case is not made that the knowledge gained from the research about human origins and human development is not worth donated fetal human lives. The people engaged in research using fetal body parts for decades think it is perfectly ethical. They have based entire careers on it. They are probably wondering why pro-life advocates are just now acting like they care because of the sensationalism of a few videos. I imagine their reaction is to shrug and get back to work.

We have to start making the case that research using fetal body parts is wrong and needs to stop, and there is only one way to know how to make that case if you are not the actual researcher. You have to know about the research by reading the papers.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Stacy Trasancos has a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, is a chemistry and physics instructor for Kolbe Academy, adjunct professor at Holy Apostles, and author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. Most of her time is devoted to raising her youngest five children, and worrying about her two oldest, with her husband in a 100-year old restored mountain lodge in the Adirondack mountains. Interact with her on Facebook or Twitter. Visit her website.

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  • ts

    One can also go shopping at Sigma Aldrich. They supply for example the MRC-5 cell line. That was derived from a 14 week old male foetus.

    http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/sigma/05090501?lang=en&region=US&cm_sp=abstract-_-4316953-_-05090501

  • Cynthia Millen

    This is an outstanding article, Stacy, and one which is very helpful. I have found myself struggling with “What should we do about this?” questions. After reading your essay, I wonder if we should first seek to ban the use of any aborted fetus tissue or organs for research because, as Dr. Baars points out so well, there is a conflict of interest. The PP videos clearly show this as the abortionist is changing the abortion procedure in order to procure organs for harvest. Second, I think we should require that all aborted fetuses be disposed of in a respectful, reverent way, just as medical school cadavers are. I know that in many cities Catholic churches have volunteered to bless and bury the aborted fetuses. This could be a mission of our church in each city where there is an abortion clinic. Finally, abortion after 20 weeks should be made illegal. We are one of five nations in the world who permit abortion up to birth. This would take away at least some of the pain and suffering which fetuses incur during late-term abortions. These are all incremental steps, but they are a start.

    Thank you again for your great research.

  • Dr Bernard Baars

    Dear Dr. Trasancos — I’m shocked by the Planned Parenthood videos, like you are, and I think there must be much better legislation and public education.

    However, the examples you cite seem to follow existing guidelines that have been carefully worked out (under the second Bush administration, I believe). There are now many methods for obtaining DNA without harm to a fetus, for example.

    The hot debate about the moment of conception vs. some later time in gestation will never be resolved, but I believe the first trimester is widely considered to precede the rise of conscious brain activity and pain perception, similar to the traditional criterion of “the quickening” of the fetus in utero, when the mother can feel the child stirring and even responding to the mother’s voice.

    Thus 12-13 weeks may be a defensible time for abortion — subject to further research. I believe all abortions that are medically or legally warranted must be performed under general anesthesia for the fetus, because the scientific evidence on the origin of pain perception is by no means settled. The ethical imperative is “first, do no harm.”

    I think that introducing a profit incentive for the abortion industry is inherently corrupting and should be prohibited with strict enforcement and penalties.

    But it seems to me that you are mixing ethically defensible and indefensible cases. Taking a blood sample in utero and extracting DNA without harming the child seems entirely defensible. Murdering a conscious child in the third trimester without general anesthesia (in the worst case) strikes me as plain murder and indeed torture.

    However, when a fetus dies in spite of all attempts to save her/him, and one can make a strong ethical case for pathology studies of tissue — just as has long been done in adults and children when the cause of death needs to be determined, or when there is a medical benefit in identifying, for example, the pathological features of Alzheimer’s Disease, then a sincere ethical case can be made.

    Such decisions should always rest with the parent or legal guardian, with strict safeguards.

    Finally, the technology now allows regression of adult cells to earlier pluripotent stem cells, which can be entirely ethical, since the adult cells can be collected from adults giving informed consent, with only a minor cheek swab or blood sample.

    Thus we are talking about a wide range of ethically very different cases.

    The Planned Parenthood videos showing what appear to be third-trimester babies “optionally” aborted strikes me as criminal murder by any reasonable standard.

    In the case of genuine ethical dilemmas where the life of the mother is at stake, responsible people may be forced into worst-case decisions. Even in that case, it is never ethical to incentivize the killing of a human being, and ethically extreme cases cannot be used to defend infanticide in more common cases.

    It is also clear that as a society we have failed to teach young men and women about their plain ethical responsibilities — indeed, the culture celebrates sexual intercourse without responsibility. The media keep peddling wildly divisive rhetoric that ends up killing viable babies en masse. That is ethically indefensible as well.

    Bottom line: Normal people with normal values are probably better guides to ethical decision making than putative “ethics experts.” However, it is also vital not to condemn genetics and development studies that are conducted under thoughtful and humane ethical guidelines.

    As for the Planned Parenthood administrators in some of the videos, I believe they should be referred for criminal prosecution, and, if proven guilty, punished to the full extent of the law.

    • Dr. Baars,

      In all of the cases I cite, the fetus is aborted. If the ethical imperative is “first, do no harm,” then intentionally killing the child is doing him or her harm.

      I did not cite cases where blood is drawn from the fetus. I did not cite cases where there was a natural death, such as miscarriage or stillbirth. In those cases, I agree that if the parents consent, there is no ethical issue in using the tissue for research.

      However, if “fresh” tissue is needed, such tissue cannot be obtained from a body that was dead in the womb for a period of time. Note how the tissue was collected. “Human fetuses were placed on ice immediately after abortion and neocortices were dissected…”

      I agree with you that there should be better legislation and public education. I think the reality is that as long abortion is legal and as long as funding agencies fund the research, fetal tissues will be used in research.

    • Dr Bernard Baars

      In that case, the only disagreement we have is the endless controversy on “the” beginning of life. I understand the passion and care expressed by those who would place it at conception. I respect that position. However, in my field (consciousness in brain science) there has been genuine progress on end-of-life questions, especially irreversible coma vs. locked-in paralysis. This has saved conscious lives for patients who were misdiagnosed as irreversibly comatose. I believe that a similar middle position can be achieved for the beginning of life. One plausible idea is to ask when the fetus becomes conscious, by now an answerable question scientifically. It is also consistent with the Aristotelian notion of the “natural soul.” The science may be crystalizing on this issue even now, and pro-life individuals could choose to save lives by focusing on a life-saving definition of the beginning of life in utero. That would NOT satisfy either one of the polar positions, which are inherently irreconcilable. It COULD give a viable position on which most people would agree, faut de mieux. I believe that most people experience this very fixed and unresolved debate as a painful dilemma. A physiologically viable marker, corresponding to the traditional one of the “quickening” could help to convert a destructively polarized debate into something that is practical and which WOULD save lives.

    • Yes, that is our only disagreement. Thank you. I imagine we could talk for a long time. I appreciate the work you do to scientifically explain consciousness at the beginning and end of life. Your work must be both exciting and frustrating. I worked at simulating photosynthesis, which allowed me to be indifferent to any metaphysical definition of life and completely unconcerned with consciousness in my specimens.

      As a mother and woman of faith, however, I could never leave the definition of the beginning and end of life and consciousness totally up to science.

      I am curious what you mean by “natural soul” per Aristotle. I don’t know that he used that term. He was specific about the definition of “soul” and “nature” separately.

  • Micha Elyi

    Agilent Technologies is Hewlett-Packard’s 1999 spin-off of its instruments business.

    • jamey brown

      “Zyklon-B gas, notoriously used in the gas chambers of the extermination camps, was manufactured by IG Farben. After the war the company was broken into units, including Hoechst AG. In 1997 Hoechst AG bought Roussel Uclaf SA which had developed the RU-486 abortion pill now on the commercial market.

      As Mengele was experimenting on babies, or destroying them altogether, the British government was issuing guidelines for infant nutrition.” Fr. George Rutler, “Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943,” page 141-42.…just saying.

  • Darlene Douglas

    Thank you for this article! The examples you included are, fortunately, explicit. Unfortunately, sometimes you really have to do some legwork to find out what’s being used in a study. I used to edit manuscripts for researchers, and I’d read the Materials and Methods sections very closely. Often, kits, like those used to package DNA in viral vectors for transfection, would be listed, but not what was in the kits themselves. I’d got to the company site and that’s where I’d discover that HEK cells were being used. Or, HEK cells would be listed under a different name, but the number 293 would tip me off. I wound up giving up my editing business because all the manuscripts coming in were using HEK cells in some way or another. Maybe this wouldn’t bother everyone, since this poor baby was only one baby who died decades ago, but for me, supporting the use of these cells without question only encourages companies, like those who make the transfection kits, to rely on fetal-derived cells without finding ethical alternative means.

  • D Hunnell

    Excellent article, Stacy. The one thing we must be cautious about is condemning all research using human tissue because some of this human tissue is obtained from aborted fetuses. When I was in medical school I dissected a human cadaver. The bodies were donated for scientific purposes which is entirely ethical. At the end of the class, the bodies were cremated and buried with respect and reverence. If parents want to donate the human remains of a miscarriage or stillborn infant for scientific research I would think that would be just as ethical as when families donate the viable organs of their deceased loved ones for tissue and organ transplants or the donation of whole bodies for medical research and education. On the other hand, medical research use of tissue that is harvested from unborn children killed by abortion bears the stain the intrinsic evil of abortion. One cannot justify the evil means that provided this tissue by any good results such research provides.

    • Thank you. Great point. I should have made that clear.

      I have seen RNA samples, for example, taken from “spontaneously aborted” fetuses, which is supposed to mean miscarried. I’ve seen some from stillborn babies that died within the hour before birth. But for every 1 of those I see, there are 10 (roughly) more articles that say “electively aborted” or “therapeutically aborted” fetuses. If the tissues need to be fresh, then it would be hard to know how much decomposition has occurred from a miscarriage, especially in early pregnancy. I think also an argument can be made that it would be morally wrong to allow research to use bodies that die from natural death knowing that natural death (the arguable part) could never supply enough specimens for the research.

    • Anabelle Hazard

      Stacy, so there is a “market” for miscarried fetus? I ask because when I had miscarried twice in the hospital and I asked for all the remains so I could bury my babies, they told me the request was unusual and I had to jump through hoops and wait for a pathologist to go through my remains before they were released to me. I want to study this angle further.

    • Probably the hoops you had to jump through were for legal protection for the hospital regarding proper disposal. Just guessing. You would know more about that them I do. Your request took more work for them.

      They are not, however, supposed to be donating tissue without consent from the parents.

      I don’t think there is any market for miscarried fetuses though because they die and remain in the womb for various amounts of time and thus undergo various amounts of decomposition. There’s no way for the research to have any control over how the tissue is handled immediately after death.

  • barbieahayes

    Thank you, Stacy. Of course these scientists know that fetuses are human. It is helpful to see it in writing. They have colluded with Planned Parenthood for as long as it has been de rigueur. Each time these scientists have propagated the lie of the PP mantra that says “it’s just a clump of cells” they collude in murder. Blood is on the hands of the government, universities, institutes, insurance agencies, the media, etc. and you will hear nary a peep about this scourge of abortion from these industries at large. Any soul who has a conscience will either lose it or their jobs (and their public standing). It is a “diabolical disorientation.”

    Stacy, have you been in touch with the bio-ethicists at The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) in Philadelphia? I wonder if it would be helpful for them to know of the reports you have cited because they may be informing Congress on how to proceed with the defunding PP bill.

    I used to believe that these problems would somehow be resolved by those in charge. I did abdicate my responsibilities out of willful ignorance. And ignorance is willful unless we are in a state of diminished capacity (mental or physical).

  • Felix Whelan

    This is brilliant. Thank you for this.

  • BiologyBrain

    Wonderful discussion of scientific papers and how fetal tissue is used. I’m going to share so more people will understand that scientific papers don’t have to be so scary!

  • Leila_Lawler

    What an excellent post. Here is something that I don’t think you will find in these papers, but perhaps can be found elsewhere, in a different type of paper: HOW the organs in particular are harvested. That is, as I understand it, to be useable, organs must be taken from a live body. This explains Nucatola’s explanation of moving the child around in the womb to be feet first (breech) — what she is describing is a partial-birth abortion, which is illegal. One rationalization for the tissue collection is that “the baby is dead anyway, might as well benefit humanity with research on the tissues.” But I don’t think that’s true — the baby is alive — and that is what she is describing on the video.

    • Leila, thank you. I’ve been looking at that too. The language is less clear there. But, for example, when they say they conducted a prostoglandin abortion and stored the fetus immediately in 4°C NaCl solution, that could mean the fetus was delivered alive (prostoglandin induces labor) and died in the cold solution. This might be done for two reasons: 1) to keep the body in tact, and 2) to prevent tissue damage from freezing too fast. Especially in brain cells, crushing or rapid freezing could damage the tissue they want. See this one: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC323852/pdf/pnas00317-0331.pdf

      For livers, they are not as worried about crushing the rest of the body and they can remove that organ and process it right in the room.

      I’ll keep looking. You’re right. That would be a useful (but difficult to write) summary.

  • Guy McClung

    Stacy-You are beyond prescient with this – I think you see that what we right now-even after the last weeks’ revelations about the evil of Planned Parenthood- you see this isn’t the end, this isn’t the deepest depth to which they are right now descending. Dr. Mengele experimented on not only corpses, sometimes fresh ones as when they injected live persons with a chemical mix and then shot them to see if the stuff slowed down bleeding, but also on live persons, monitoring them as they died agonizing deaths. I think you are making the point – re: evil: we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Planned Parenthood and its cohorts must be involved in things worse than Mengele – because they are more evil and they have technology that Mengele would have died for (pun intended).

    • Yes, exactly Guy. There is nothing that could replace the fetal tissues that have grown themselves, so it’s hard to see how this research will stop, and it’s easy to see how it will continue and grow.

  • Birgit Atherton Jones

    Such a great, informative article. You’ve removed all of the emotional diatribes and simply given undisputable facts. This will make the topic less deniable to those who argue with straw men as a diversionary tactic. I’ll be sharing this will all of my prolife connections. Thank you!

  • Debi Vinnedge

    Excellent Stacy! And for anyone who thinks this is something fairly new, read Forsaking God for the Sake of Science – taking you back to the 1930’s…fully documented. https://cogforlife.org/2012/06/13/polioperversion/

    • Your work was some of the first I read! Thank YOU for all you do.