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