ANNAPOLIS – Anti-abortion activists lined up behind a ban on fetal tissue research, while critics called the plan a backdoor attempt to ban abortion at a Maryland House hearing this week.
A bill sponsored by Delegate James Kelly, R-Baltimore County, would ban any person from having, buying, selling or giving away any cells, tissues or organs from an intentionally aborted fetus.
Maryland institutions, such as Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, also would be banned from possessing fetal tissue under the proposal.
This bill would go beyond federal law, which prohibits the sale of human body parts for profit. Federal law permits women to donate fetal material to science under NIH guidelines.
Medical research exploits the fetus and contributes to a loss of dignity, several anti-abortion groups told the House Environmental Committee.
“If a parent mistreats a child, it doesn’t give us the right to join in,” said Catherine Connolly of the North Baltimore Pro-Life Study Group, one of 10 people who testified in favor of the bill.
“Maryland should be ashamed of itself,” for allowing the practice, Connolly said, comparing research on fetal body parts to medical experiments conducted by Nazi scientists.
“We shouldn’t be in this industry,” Kelly said.
Another proponent of the bill said the scientific advances do not justify the means.
“To destroy some people in order to help others is a balance I think most people find morally repugnant,” said Doug Stiegler, spokesman for the Family Protection Lobby.
Allowing fetal tissue research would only encourage more abortions, said David Lam, executive director of the Maryland Right to Life Foundation. Women could be persuaded to have an abortion when told the procedure could help not only her current problem, but “would also help humanity,” he said.
That kind of view is flat-out wrong, said Paulette Hammond, spokeswoman for Marylanders for the Right to Choose. Women should be allowed to make that choice and “it is unwarranted to assume that a woman would base her decision to have an abortion upon her desire to donate fetal tissue.”
Hammond was the only defender of fetal tissue research at the hearing. Planned Parenthood of Maryland and the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League gave written testimony against the bill. Because opponents believe the bill is likely unconstitutional and would be challenged in court, they brought very little fight against it, Hammond said. If people are prohibited from possessing an aborted fetus, it would be impossible for someone to perform the procedure without breaking the law, she said. The important research being done should not be hindered by the Legislature, Hammond said, since the use of fetal tissue to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s “is giving patients, their families, physicians, and researchers every reason to hope.” Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain, resulting in a steady decline in memory. An estimated 4 million people have the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Parkinson’s, often associated with uncontrollable shaking, affects muscle activity in about 1 million Americans. Fetal tissue is used in transplants to replace faulty or failing cells to treat these debilitating diseases. Proponents of the legislation repeatedly cited a Laurel-based organization, the Anatomic Gift Foundation, as an example of tissue donation gone wrong. Several witnesses quoted from pro-life magazines that doctors were killing babies in order to collect rent money from the foundation, which came in and collected tissue samples. The Anatomic Gift Foundation has since gotten out of the business of donation of fetal tissue, but it still supports the research, said Vice President James Bardsley. The foundation halted that portion of their operation in January because of the political pressure. Bardsley said legislators should oppose the bill. “I think it would be a travesty,” Bardsley said, “if Maryland got on this political bandwagon and made it impossible for this research to continue.” -30- CNS-3-2-00