Column: Scrutiny over fetal tissue research for political gain is inappropriate

In this Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015 photo, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards is sworn in before testifying at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on "Planned Parenthood's Taxpayer Funding," in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Fetal tissue research has existed since the mid-20th century. The young cells in the tissue show flexibility and versatility when implanted into a recipient. It has made remarkable leaps in medical discoveries for stem cell research and treatments for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. The creation of vaccines for polio, rubella and chickenpox come from the use of fetal tissue. Even those who are not vaccinated receive the benefit of these vaccines due to herd immunity. 

Republicans have introduced a bill to the House in order to prohibit certain research on human fetal tissue obtained through abortions. Though their political stance on abortions has a very clear ethical and moral influence in their agenda, opposing research using fetal tissue is also immoral. Ironically enough, before the development of rubella vaccines, the infection caused about 5,000 miscarriages a year.

The previous scientific achievements obtained through use of fetal tissue have saved countless number of lives, including those who so vehemently oppose fetal tissue research. The politicians who are currently vaccinated for polio, rubella and chickenpox have research done by fetal tissue to thank. Fetal tissue is enriched with stem cells which can be used to treat degenerative diseases as well as AIDS, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, cancer and eyesight loss, all of which involve the degeneration and degradation of necessary cells that cannot be replaced with the healthy version unless transplanted with stem cells. 

To avoid any mistake of hypocrisy being present, it is only fair for those who currently oppose medical research using fetal tissue to also take a stance against using any and all medical advancements we have gained due to such research as well. 

The actual argument against fetal tissue research has yet to be made by the politicians who by no means have the authority or the knowledge to make claims against scientific aspect of the research. Their sole argument is one of ethics and morals. One must wonder, what exactly they are opposed to? If the battle against abortion and a woman’s right to choose is now contaminating medical research, then the medical community must draw a line now. The research being conducted is by no means encouraging abortions, as both issues show no causal relationship. 

Denying the right to use resources that can help millions of lives in an effort to promote a political agenda is an atrocity. Stopping research involving fetal tissue does not ensure the eradication of abortions. It simply takes away a woman’s ability to donate the tissue to medical research well after the procedure is completed. 

With the billions of dollars the National Institute of Health spends on medical research, $76 million was given in grants for this type of research. If the tissue were not donated, they would simply be disposed of. Yale University and UConn both house research projects that involve the use of fetal tissue in their research.

Due to the recent increase in scrutiny of research projects using fetal tissue, these projects are all in danger of losing funding. Arizona, Wisconsin and California have all taken steps to make the donation of fetal tissue more difficult while many researchers are in danger of backlash and harassment from abortion opponents. 

Republicans were not always against the use of fetal tissue in research. Presidential candidate Ben Carson used human fetal tissue in his 1992 study to better understand the development of the brain. However, the current controversy against Planned Parenthood has opened the door to anti-abortion activists to gain support against any and all issues that involve fetal tissue. This bill being introduced to the House has virtually nothing to do with the research itself, but rather a group of people attempting to find solace in some victory over fetal tissue. 

It truly is a shame when politics manages to thwart the efforts of those who are simply trying to make the world a better place for everyone to live. If any ethics and morals needs to be investigated, I’d like to refer everyone’s scrutiny to Washington, D.C.


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.