Today the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it was terminating some grants and contracts that relied upon tissue from babies killed in utero via elective abortion and that other projects using fetal tissue would be reevaluated.
The Trump administration announced Wednesday that the federal government would sharply curtail federal spending on medical research that uses tissue from aborted fetuses, mainly by ending fetal-tissue research within the National Institutes of Health.
The move goes a long way toward fulfilling a top goal of anti-abortion groups that have lobbied hard for it; it is just the latest in a string of decisions that have pleased such groups. But scientists say the tissue is crucial for studies that benefit millions of patients.
Besides ending N.I.H. research, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would immediately cancel a $2 million-a-year contract with the University of California, San Francisco, for research involving fetal tissue from abortions; the contract started in 2013. Other university research projects would be subject to case-by-case review.
“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” the department said in a statement. It added that about 200 research projects involving fetal tissue and conducted at universities with N.I.H. grants would be allowed to continue until their funding expires, but that ethics advisory boards appointed by Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary, would review and recommend whether to fund future individual projects involving aborted fetal tissue.
Some scientists were puzzling over the announcement on Wednesday, wondering in particular about who would be appointed to the new ethics advisory boards and what exactly the boards would consider. According to the department, each board would include 14 to 20 people, at least one-third of whom would be scientists “with substantial accomplishments in biomedical or behavioral research.” Each board must also include a lawyer, an ethicist, a practicing physician and a theologian.
Currently, the federal government funds research on aborted fetal tissue to the tune of $100 million per year.
There is a lot of howling in the research community over the lost opportunities, and by that I mean money, but this is the right thing to do.
Doctors, for all their penchant to lecture everyone else about how to live, have never been all that great about observing ethical niceties if they aren’t actively restrained by the force of law. One of the world’s leading malaria researchers, Claus Schilling, was hanged at Landsberg Prison on May 28, 1946 for carrying out experiments on concentration camp inmates…people, I would submit, who were viewed just as non-human by the Nazi doctors as fetuses are view by much of the current medical community. Schilling’s experiments weren’t necessarily bad science but it was a case of science unmoored from any concern about ethics or morality. The same state of affairs existed in Japan’s Unit 731. And it is a very, very safe bet similar research on human subjects was carried out in the USSR and is being carried out right now in Communist China because we know, via press release, that China has actually edited the genetic make-up of babies without any thought as to what this might mean for the children. We have strict rules in the United States for experiments on human subjects because scientists have proven, time and again, that they simply don’t have the moral compass to be trusted with the power of life and death over humans (see the Tuskegee syphilis study and the Guatemala syphilis experiment if you want to know what otherwise decent people are capable of doing to folks they don’t think are all that human in the name of advancing science).
Yes, research on fetal tissue MIGHT yield breakthroughs. It hasn’t but it might. The same claim was made about embryonic stem cells. The same can be said about conducting experiments on prisoners or the homeless or the elderly or the infirm. Just because something might yield a positive out come doesn’t make the action right. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it.
Pope John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical Fides et ratio (Faith and Reason) says:
In the field of scientific research, a positivistic mentality took hold which not only abandoned the Christian vision of the world, but more especially rejected every appeal to a metaphysical or moral vision. It follows that certain scientists, lacking any ethical point of reference, are in danger of putting at the centre of their concerns something other than the human person and the entirety of the person’s life. Further still, some of these, sensing the opportunities of technological progress, seem to succumb not only to a market-based logic, but also to the temptation of a quasi-divine power over nature and even over the human being.
As a result of the crisis of rationalism, what has appeared finally is nihilism. As a philosophy of nothingness, it has a certain attraction for people of our time. Its adherents claim that the search is an end in itself, without any hope or possibility of ever attaining the goal of truth. In the nihilist interpretation, life is no more than an occasion for sensations and experiences in which the ephemeral has pride of place. Nihilism is at the root of the widespread mentality which claims that a definitive commitment should no longer be made, because everything is fleeting and provisional.
It should also be borne in mind that the role of philosophy itself has changed in modern culture. From universal wisdom and learning, it has been gradually reduced to one of the many fields of human knowing; indeed in some ways it has been consigned to a wholly marginal role. Other forms of rationality have acquired an ever higher profile, making philosophical learning appear all the more peripheral. These forms of rationality are directed not towards the contemplation of truth and the search for the ultimate goal and meaning of life; but instead, as “instrumental reason”, they are directed—actually or potentially—towards the promotion of utilitarian ends, towards enjoyment or power.
Fetal tissue research is a monument to utilitarianism. Babies are killed because the interfere with the plans of the mother or prevent her from actualizing herself. Their remains are cut up and sold as parts for medical experiment. The scientist who buy the remains, using your tax dollars, are only seeing some “greater good” of what they are doing and don’t care that they are subsidizing abortion.
This call is the right call. As a culture and society we should not be in the business of creating an after market for dead babies. Whatever the scientific benefit, the very fact that it exists puts us on a slippery slope. If we agree that research can be done on fetal tissue, what are the logical limits on the source of such tissue given physician assisted suicide and, inevitably, euthanasia taking hold.