Why it would be a big mistake to do away with fetal tissue research

Planned Parenthood on Tuesday said they were going to stop accepting reimbursement for the cost of donating fetal tissue for the purpose of medical research.

The health care agency has come under intense scrutiny in recent months for its practice in donating such tissue that is derived from legal abortions with their mother’s permission.

The practice has been happening since the 1930s, and in fact led scientists to create the vaccine that eradicated the polio virus, which earned a Nobel Prize and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Its use in medical science is legal in all but a handful of states, and it’s been granted federal funding for decades, with the exception being when Ronald Reagan passed a law restricting funding in 1988, only to have it reversed by Bill Clinton five years later. While George W. Bush lessened support for embryonic stem cell research in 2001 (which Obama overturned eight years later), he did not do the same for fetal tissue.

Fetal tissue researchWhile agencies like Planned Parenthood are not allowed to sell fetal tissue for profit, they are allowed to collect money to offset the cost of getting, storing and processing it. There’s no evidence that Planned Parenthood has asked for more money than the appropriate cost of reimbursement, but the agency is clearly making the policy change to avoid any continued political distraction.

But the debate about whether fetal tissue research should continue rages on. Some states, like Wisconsin, are pushing bills to defund Planned Parenthood, and to outlaw the sale, transfer or experimentation of fetal body parts.

To understand the significance of this, we first must understand what diseases fetal tissue research is aimed at. It’s already contributed to vaccines for rubella (German measles) and chicken pox. Presently, it’s being used to study AIDS, muscular dystrophy, treatments for spinal cord injury, and the causes of birth defects.

It’s useful because the fetal cells’ youth and adaptability could potentially replace people’s own cells that are compromised and not responding to their own body. Which makes them highly useful in studying degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS, or that thing you poured ice all over yourself for last summer.

Using fetal tissue to study these diseases surely doesn’t guarantee any type of treatment, let alone a cure. But the key to any scientific discovery is experimentation. Learning what doesn’t work is an important method towards finding out what does.

In short, studying fetal tissue provides progress. And because so many conservative lawmakers are so short-sided and stubborn with their opposition of abortion, they are completely overlooking and disregarding this important component of medical research.

Scientists of the world need to unite and put a stop to this nonsense. When the smartest people in the world get together for a common cause, amazing things happen.

Like the Manhattan project. Which was a monumental scientific achievement that led to the development of the first nuclear weapons, which … were used to kill more than a quarter of a million people.

On second thought, maybe they should just stick to their labs.

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