ANNAPOLIS – Supporters of a bill outlawing fetal tissue research in Maryland told House panel members Wednesday that an illegal market has developed, in which “baby body parts” are purchased and sold.
The Maryland Aborted Children Exploitation Prevention Act, sponsored by Delegate James Kelly, R-Baltimore County, prohibits the use of certain facilities for the “sale, exchange, or purchase or the offer to sell, give, barter, exchange or purchase” any aborted fetuses for research or treatment.
The bill was heard in the Environmental Matters Committee.
Kelly, who introduced this bill for the first time last year, said it is not an attempt to control abortion and does not include fetal tissue from miscarriages.
Fetal tissue is used for medical research and therapy, particularly in people who suffer from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Such tissue is prized for research because fetus immune systems are incomplete and because fetuses contain stem cells, or cells that have not yet differentiated into a particular type, such as nerve cells or skin cells.
While federal guidelines prohibit a person from profiting from fetal tissue sales, anti-abortion activists claim that there is a loophole in the law.
In March, “ABC News 20/20” aired a three-month hidden-camera investigation in which reporters uncovered an industry “in which tissue and organs from aborted fetuses, donated to help medical research, are being marketed for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars.” The investigation found one tissue retrieval company with price listings of $325 for a spinal cord, $550 for a reproductive organ and almost $1,000 for a brain.
“Human beings are not to be exploited for the benefits of others,” said Pat Kelly, associate director for the Maryland Catholic Conference. Kelly testified at Wednesday’s hearing. “It’s kind of ironic that there is no human status given to the unborn child.”
Under federal law, hospitals, abortion clinics and private physicians may only give a woman the choice to donate her fetus after she has signed the consent form to have an abortion. She has no say in where the tissue goes and cannot be paid for it.
The law allows small charges for the cost of removing and transporting the tissue – a loophole, say abortion foes.
In interviews, anti-abortion activists say the financial incentive researchers receive encourages them to seek out a particular tissue, “body part” or perform an abortion. They also say that the use of fetal tissue entices women to seek abortions.
“It would appease their conscience if they are told, `Your child may find the cure for such and such disease,'” said Andrea Lafferty, executive director for the Traditional Values Coalition in Washington. “They (researchers) try to make it very clinical. If they were very specific and truthful, I don’t think a mother would want to do that to their baby.”
Proponents of fetal tissue research say the research on and transplantation of such tissue is the only hope for people who suffer from cancer, strokes, spinal cord injuries, hemophilia, sickle cell anemia and muscular dystrophy. Unlike adult stem cells, fetal stem cells are more adaptable and grow faster. A transplant recipient is less likely to reject the cells, which makes it easier to find an exact tissue match. It was fetal tissue that was used to develop the polio vaccine in the 1950s. Opponents of using fetal stem cells for research say that there are other resources that are just as good, such as embryonic cells and adult stem cells. “We don’t oppose legitimate medical research but we oppose extracting tissues from aborted babies to be used for research,” said David Lam, executive director of Maryland Right to Life. “There are alternative resources that pose no moral problems and are just as promising. “This is probably the easiest way, not the only way,” said Pat Kelly. “There are discoveries every day. The end does not justify the means.” Several organizations, including the Parkinson’s Action Network and the National Alzheimer’s Association, support the use of fetal stem cells from abortion for research, provided the industry is regulated. “Science is the only place we can turn for clues and eventual answers to Alzheimer’s,” said the National Alzheimer’s Association Board of Directors in a written statement. “We have every reason to believe we are approaching a breakthrough in understanding and treating the disease, if Congress continues its support of funding for Alzheimer’s research and if scientists are allowed to pursue all the promising leads that are beginning to develop.”