Planned Parenthood has vehemently defended its practice of selling (yes, selling) the body parts and tissue of aborted babies to biomedical companies for use in scientific research. (In fact, Catholic Stand’s Editor Emeritus, Dr. Stacy Trasancos, has already written several articles detailing how the practice of using aborted fetal tissue for research has been quietly ongoing for decades).
What has baffled me is the response of so many people, including some Catholics, who say that while abortion was horrible, at least these babies didn’t die in vain. Does it really make sense, the argument goes, to “waste” all those valuable fetal organs and tissue just because they came from a victim of abortion?
In an article for the Washington Post, Bill Leinweber, President of the National Disease Research Interchange, echoes these sentiments: “We wouldn’t be where we are today in much of medicine without the use of human tissue. […] The important concept we strive to convey to folks is: Any donation of organ or tissue for research should be cherished as a gift.”
Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson also said, in response to allegations that he had participated in a study involving the use of aborted fetal tissue samples, “To not use the tissue that is in a tissue bank, regardless of where it comes from, would be foolish. Why would anybody not do that?”
These quotes reminded me of the words of another doctor, one who, like Dr. Ben Carson, was studying diseases of the brain:
“…those brains offered wonderful material, of mentally poor, deformities and early children’s diseases. Of course I accepted the brains. It really wasn’t my concern where they came from and how they were brought to me…”
Sounds very similar to what Leinweber and Carson said, right?
That particular quote was said by Dr. Julius Hallervorden during the Nuremberg Trials. Dr. Hallervorden was a Nazi scientist who experimented on the brains of Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Keep in mind that during that time it was perfectly legal under German law to kill Jews, thanks to the Nazi regime. Given it was legal to kill Jews, it seemed silly to Dr. Hallervorden to let their corpses go to waste. And indeed, Dr. Hallervorden and a colleague, Hugo Spatz (also a Nazi) discovered, through their research, Hallervorden-Spatz syndrome (now called Pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration).
Were Dr. Hallervorden et al smart and sensible to make use of the “material” legally “donated” to them, regardless of the origin? If not, why is there widespread acceptance of the use of aborted fetal tissue for medical research – especially by those who profess to oppose abortion? Would it have made a difference if the Jews were unborn?
The Washington Post article cited above, and this New York Times article, spill much virtual ink telling us how important fetal tissue is for research purposes. However, one key principle in medical ethics (or any kind of ethics) is this: the end does not justify the means.
The End Does Not Justify the Means
In other words, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “One may never do evil so that good may result from it.”
It doesn’t matter if aborted fetal tissue cured cancer, Alzheimer’s, made the blind see and the lame walk. It’s simply not moral or ethical to use the corpses of unjustly murdered human beings to advance medical research — especially when the human beings in question are murdered for profit (and the company that murders them further profits by selling the organs, tissue, limbs, and sometimes intact bodies).
The problem is that this Pandora’s Box was opened long ago. Dr. Hallervorden certainly had no ethical qualms in using the brains of unjustly, but legally, murdered human beings in his research. So is it really surprising that other scientists made the leap to using the organs and tissue of other unjustly, but legally, murdered human beings?
The problem with this research is that it has now created a widespread market for aborted babies. The medical community wants abortion to be “safe and legal,” but it certainly does not want it to be “rare,” because that would deprive the market of their primary source of research material.
The Pontifical Academy for Life noted this issue in its document about vaccines derived from aborted fetal stem cells, saying (emphasis mine),
As regards the preparation, distribution and marketing of vaccines produced as a result of the use of biological material whose origin is connected with cells coming from foetuses voluntarily aborted, such a process is stated, as a matter of principle, morally illicit, because it could contribute in encouraging the performance of other voluntary abortions, with the purpose of the production of such vaccines.
This is exactly what is happening now. The proponents of Planned Parenthood are trumpeting all the good things that have come from aborted fetal tissue research, including vaccines. (Catholic teaching states that while parents may use these vaccines, we are obligated to strenuously object to their unethical manufacture and push for moral alternatives.)
The Vatican also spoke about the issue of research on aborted fetal tissue in Dignitas Personae, which states (emphasis mine),
A different situation is created when researchers use “biological material” of illicit origin which has been produced apart from their research center or which has been obtained commercially. The Instruction Donum vitae formulated the general principle which must be observed in these cases: “The corpses of human embryos and fetuses, whether they have been deliberately aborted or not, must be respected just as the remains of other human beings. In particular, they cannot be subjected to mutilation or to autopsies if their death has not yet been verified and without the consent of the parents or of the mother. Furthermore, the moral requirements must be safeguarded that there be no complicity in deliberate abortion and that the risk of scandal be avoided”.
In this regard, the criterion of independence as it has been formulated by some ethics committees is not sufficient. According to this criterion, the use of “biological material” of illicit origin would be ethically permissible provided there is a clear separation between those who, on the one hand, produce, freeze and cause the death of embryos and, on the other, the researchers involved in scientific experimentation. The criterion of independence is not sufficient to avoid a contradiction in the attitude of the person who says that he does not approve of the injustice perpetrated by others, but at the same time accepts for his own work the “biological material” which the others have obtained by means of that injustice. When the illicit action is endorsed by the laws which regulate healthcare and scientific research, it is necessary to distance oneself from the evil aspects of that system in order not to give the impression of a certain toleration or tacit acceptance of actions which are gravely unjust. Any appearance of acceptance would in fact contribute to the growing indifference to, if not the approval of, such actions in certain medical and political circles.
The “growing indifference” and “approval” was and is in full force today. Unfortunately, many doctors, scientists, researchers, and members of the general public have deadened their conscience to the plight of unjustly killed unborn children, or have convinced themselves that the evil can be justified as long as good comes from it. Many atrocities in medical research (such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study) or ethical violations (such as the case of Henrietta Lacks) have been justified with that logic. Their reasoning went: “This research will help a lot of people, so who cares if these less important humans get hurt in the process?”
Another issue is the factor of realistically applying treatments derived from fetal cells. Fortunately, vaccines are derived from aborted fetal stem cell lines that are able to be constantly replicated, so no ongoing abortions are required to keep producing vaccines. However, what if a different cure yields a need for a new supply of fetal cells? As Amy Otto at The Federalist explains in her article “Where’s the Proof Baby Tissue Trafficking Saves Lives?” (emphasis mine):
There are only 19 active or completed clinical trials using fetal tissue shown at Clinicaltrials.gov. Many also use tissue sources that don’t require killing babies, such as from umbilical cord blood and foreskin from circumcisions. The study in that database that primarily uses fetal tissue is titled “Safety Study in Retinal Transplantation for Dry Age Related Macular Degeneration.” It aims to “test the safety of transplanting human fetal neural retinal tissue and retinal pigment epithelium into the eyes of human patients with age-related macular degeneration.”
In other words, they want to graft fetal neural retina tissue onto the eyes of elderly people with failing eyesight. If the study improves the eyesight of the elderly better or cheaper than laser surgery, supply is going to be an issue. This is where science and research meet supply and demand, i.e. reality. If you are going to fund and investigate a procedure that will never be scalable in the real world, unless our society decides to increase abortions and fetal harvesting to help improve the eyesight of the elderly, science is going to have to invent another way to solve these problems.
Would the end justify the means in this case? Would it be licit to deliberately kill an unborn child so that an elderly person could have improved eyesight? If not, then where do we draw the line?
Not Like Organ Donation
Another argument I’ve heard is that a mother donating the body of her aborted baby to science is no different than someone who donates their organs after death. But donation of aborted fetal tissue is not at all analogous to voluntary organ donation. A person, or his/her next of kin, must freely consent, unencumbered by fear, coercion, or duress, in order to donate organs or other tissue after his/her death. Putting aside the fact that most, if not all, patients undergoing abortions are likely encumbered by fear, coercion, or duress of some nature (why else would they be procuring an abortion?) while signing the “consent” forms to have their children chopped up and sold for parts. Parents may not — or should not — have the ability to give consent to donate their child’s organs and tissues if they have deliberately killed him or her (or, in the case of abortion, paid someone else to do so).
I remember several years ago when popular exhibitions such as Body Worlds and BODIES… The Exhibition were under fire due to charges that the cadavers used in their displays, purchased from China, were actually the bodies of executed political prisoners. People were horrified by the possibility of bodies of unjustly murdered human beings being sold for profit and then used for educational purposes.
Presumably China legally executed those prisoners according to the laws of their own country, and presumably China does not have laws regarding the trafficking in human body parts and organs as the United States does. So why the concern and outrage over a business purchasing and using the bodies of legally killed human beings, when the purchase and use of legally killed unborn human beings is accepted and praised?
My Personal Stake In This Matter
My youngest living child, Peter, was born with a congenital birth defect called bilateral clubfoot. His condition was diagnosed at my initial anatomy ultrasound when he was 19 weeks, 3 days gestation; it was later confirmed via a Level II ultrasound when he was 22 weeks gestation. His clubfoot was idiopathic, meaning there was no known genetic or environmental cause (neither my husband nor I had any known family history of clubfoot). About 1 in 1000 children are born with clubfoot in the United States.
In the months between Peter’s diagnosis and birth, I researched his condition scrupulously. I scoured the Internet for articles, read books, watched videos detailing treatment.
In the course of my research, I was horrified to learn that in the United Kingdom, abortions due to clubfoot were higher than originally reported. Women were aborting their babies due to a condition that has a 95+% treatment success rate with no lasting side effects! (source) Why would someone kill their baby if the prognosis was so excellent? I couldn’t figure it out.
Just a few days, ago, however, the second piece of the puzzle clicked into place. Dr. Trasancos’ articles about the prevalence of the use of fetal body parts in scientific research made me wonder if they had ever been used in the course of research regarding clubfoot. I did a little research. To my shock, and horror, I found that the answer was yes.
Anatomical study for an updated comprehension of clubfoot. Part II: Ligaments, tendons and muscles, authored by Drs. Gunther Windisch, Friedrich Anderhuber, Verena Haldi-Brändle, and Gerhard Ulrich Exner, (all hailing from Austria or Switzerland), published in the Journal of Children’s Orthopedics in 2007. Their methodology was as follows:
Surgical exposure was performed on seven idiopathic clubfeet specimens, aborted between the 25th and 37th week of gestation and compared to two normal feet (27th and 36th week of gestation).
Did you get that? Seven babies (“specimens”), aborted in the second or third trimester because they had idiopathic clubfoot – a condition that has a 95+% treatment success rate and no adverse side effects – were compared to the normal feet of two babies aborted in the second and third trimesters.
Abortion law in Austria is that abortions are “not subject to penalties” if carried out within the first three months of a pregnancy or in case of serious health concerns for the mother or baby. If these aborted babies came from Austria, presumably doctors there decided that idiopathic clubfoot – a condition that has a 95+% treatment success rate and no adverse side effects – was a “serious health concern.”
Abortion law in Switzerland states that “[a]fter twelve weeks, a woman may have an abortion if the doctor believes her ‘physical integrity’ will be threatened or she will face ‘profound distress’ should the pregnancy be allowed to continue to term. The danger to the woman must be shown to increase as the pregnancy advances.” So perhaps the prospect of a child having a condition with a 95+% treatment success rate and no adverse side effects was enough to cause “profound distress” in several Swiss women, who then had abortions?
Or perhaps the specimens came from China, where abortion in all trimesters is not only prevalent but sometimes mandated and forced by the government; or from the U.K., where, as I had previously discovered, there were 205 abortions due to clubfoot between 2006 and 2010.
And isn’t it “lucky” for these researchers that at least 4 women whose babies had idiopathic clubfoot decided to abort at a clinic that just happened to have a tissue, organ, and body part donation program? I wonder how many abortion facility employees have friends and former colleagues in the medical research field — and I wonder if scientists can place an “order” for a certain type of organ or limb that they want with their contacts.
And I wonder how much those orders play into an abortion facility’s incentive to encourage women whose babies have specific conditions to abort.
Wherever the source, children older than my son at the time of his diagnosis – and some nearly as old as my son was at the time of his birth – were killed due to their easily treatable condition. Subsequently, their feet were “donated” for research.
Feet like these:
And feet like these:
And feet like these:
And feet like these, nearly two years after his birth:
Hypothetically, if this research had somehow provided a cure for my son’s condition, either before or after his birth, I would not have accepted it. I could not in good conscience cure my son’s condition by not only accepting, but celebrating the deliberate, targeted killing of innocent children — especially when there was already a treatment with a 95+% success rate with no adverse side effects already available. Even if that wasn’t the case. I would not condone evil so that good may result, even for my own son.
Fetal organ and tissue research has to stop. We cannot build our medical advances on the back of murdered babies. This trafficking in human parts is unethical and immoral and we cannot expect to make any progress reducing abortion rates as long as there is such a large market for the bodies of aborted babies. We must advance research use ethical and moral means for procuring cells and tissue for research from licit sources — umbilical cord blood, placental tissue, foreskins, or perhaps even donations from children lost to miscarriage or stillbirth. (I would have considered donating Francis’ body to research – but I was never given the option. My choices were to claim his/her body or allow him/her to be incinerated as “medical waste.”) Or perhaps more research needs to be put into using induced pluripotent stem cells.
We cannot profit in any way from a process that involves deliberately killing unborn children in order to deprive them of human rights, and then selling them piecemeal to
the highest bidder tissue procurement companies. Such treatment of a human being is an innate violation of human dignity, one that human beings instinctively realize but sometimes refuse to acknowledge. The dignity of human beings cannot and should not be sacrificed on the altar of medical research.