The coronavirus crisis has renewed the battle over fetal tissue research, with Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill leading the effort to preserve the ban on federal funding.
Eighteen states, along with Indiana, have sent a letter to the Trump Administration urging for the fetal tissue ban to remain in place. Hill wrote the letter on behalf of the coalition that includes Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and other states.
He argued the “commitment to acting consistent with human dignity” should not be “thrust aside” because of the pandemic. Hill asserted, “Fetal tissue research has serious ethical and moral ramifications. Fetal tissue is unquestionably human tissue.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiated the policy limiting fetal tissue research in June 2019. Noting a top priority of the administration was “promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death,” the agency announced that research projects proposing to use fetal tissue from elective abortions will have to get approval from an ethics advisory board in order to secure federal funding.
Hill’s message comes in response to a letter from a coalition of 15 states asking the administration to lift the ban to help accelerate the development of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“If we are going to rise as a Nation to overcome this pandemic, then we need to utilize all the tools in our toolbox, including allowing our scientists to develop a vaccine and treatment to COVID-19,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote in the letter. “… Science-based decision making should be at the forefront when addressing this issue and the scientists’ position on this issue have been clear: currently, there are no alternatives to human fetal tissue that have been shown to be as powerful in conducting these important studies across a board range of research topics.”
However, Hill dismissed the notion that lifting the ban would aid research on the coronavirus.
“The (California) letter claims that fetal tissue is necessary to ‘accelerate vaccine development’ for COVID-19, but fresh fetal tissue from recent abortions – as distinguished from cell lines derived from abortions occurring long ago – has not been used to create a single vaccine,” Hill wrote.
Becerra’s letter contended that the use of fetal tissue led to the development of vaccines to combat diseases such as polio, measles and rabies. Moreover, it has been used to help find treatments and cures for such diseases as HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s.
“Scientists at the National Institutes of Health working on potential therapies for COVID-19 have been appealing to this administration for permission to work with fetal tissue, arguing that this pandemic warrants an exemption to your Ban,” Xavier wrote. “We urge you to grant their request and end the Ban.”
Hill countered with an opposing view from the scientific community.
“Indeed, Dr. David A. Prentice, a cell and development biologist with forty years’ experience as a professor and researcher, testified to Congress that the new vaccines for shingles, zika, and ebola were all developed using neither fresh fetal tissue nor historical fetal cell lines,” Hill wrote. “Ethical alternatives to fetal tissue also exist for purposes of biological research.”