Report: Top Biden science advisor defended using aborted baby parts in research while NIH director

Francis Collins Dr. Francis Collins | File photo

Pro-life leaders are challenging Dr. Francis Collins, a top Biden science advisor, after a new report claimed he defended the use of aborted baby parts for research while serving as director of the National Institutes of Health.

Collins, who identifies as a Christian and is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, made his remarks during a private event at the University of Chicago in October, the Daily Wire reported, citing a leaked audio recording. He responded to a student, who asked him about National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for experiments, such as the University of Pittsburgh's studies that involve the harvesting of aborted baby parts, at six to 42 weeks gestation, and grafting scalps of aborted babies onto lab rats. 

While Collins said that he is “troubled” by abortion, he suggested that a moral and ethical case could be made for using the tissue of aborted fetuses.

“After all, pregnancy termination is, at the present time, legal in the United States. Whether you’re in support of it or not, it’s happened,” he said, according to the Daily Wire. “The material from those elective abortions is discarded.”

Collins, a physician-geneticist who led the NIH until December 2021, emphasized that this tissue could prove beneficial.

“There are aspects of fetal tissue that can be extremely valuable in understanding how life works, how development happens, and how to treat certain diseases like Parkinson’s disease, for instance.”

Collins shared his reasoning with the audience.

“Fetal tissue is being discarded in large quantities every day,” he said. “If there were a circumstance where, with consent of the mother, having been obtained after the abortion, not in any way as an inspiration to carry it forward, the abortion … could ultimately help somebody. Which of those two choices is more ethical — discard all the tissue or use a small part? … Can you, in fact, in some circumstances, even with actions that you consider immoral, derive something from it that might actually be moral and beneficial?”

“That’s the horns of the dilemma upon which I have been resting here for these 12 years as NIH Director, trying to oversee human fetal tissue research,” he concluded, “which is something that I have to make decisions about.”

Four months later, Collins began serving as Biden’s science adviser and co-chairman of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science.

The White House and the NIH did not respond for comment by time of publication.

The pro-life reaction

Pro-life leaders expressed shock and disappointment in Collins’ comments.

“Dr. Collins’ disregard for ethics and his defense of trafficking in aborted baby scalps, hearts, brains and eyeballs is horrific,” Dr. David Prentice, vice president and research director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, SBA List’s education arm, told CNA. “His lack of understanding about the scientific failures of fetal tissue research versus the successes of alternatives like adult stem cells, which have already helped roughly 2 million people, displays a lack of leadership.”

Human persons, he said, are not commodities. 

“Our nation needs people who value every human life, not for a person’s usefulness when parted out like a used vehicle, but rather for their intrinsic worth as a human being,” he concluded.

“Respect for the inherent dignity of the human person necessarily means that science is at the service of the person, not vice versa,” March for Life President Jeanne Mancini told CNA.

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Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action, responded similarly.

“Francis Collins’ comments regarding the ‘value’ of fetal tissue are horrifying and inexcusable,” she told CNA. “A preborn child’s life is infinitely valuable and should be treated as such. To argue that it is ethical to perform testing on their discarded, fully-formed bodies after they were torn apart by abortion is unthinkable and shows the extreme lack of moral judgment and leadership Collins has for the American people and their children.”

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a senior fellow with the The Catholic Association (and host of “Conversations with Consequences,” a weekly EWTN radio show), addressed Collins’ stance on science. 

“It is true that valuable information may be gleaned from unethically-sourced material,” she admitted. “This has been a constant temptation in science for as long as the scientific method has been practiced. There exists, understandably, a great temptation to look to the ‘greater good’ and disregard the negative impact on the experimental subject.”

She described that negative impact.

“In the case of experimentation using fetal remains, to use the tissue for experimentation is to treat human remains without the dignity they should be accorded,” she said. “Also, it opens up a Pandora's box of possibilities for abuse.”

“Women at a time of distress can be taken advantage of and pressed to donate the remains,” she explained. “Avaricious abortion facilities, handsomely paid to produce the specimens, are tempted to press the mothers. There is also the great temptation to change the type of procedure or its timing in order to produce the most profitable specimen, when only the mother’s safety and comfort should be consulted.”

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Lauren Enriquez, who serves as the deputy media strategist of Students for Life of America, recommended Collins step down from his leadership position.

“Instead of doing his job to protect Americans, Francis Collins seeks to use the dead bodies of American victims of abortion violence to satisfy his institute's unprincipled and ghoulish curiosities,” she said. “As long as Francis Collins remains unwilling to do his job to protect and serve ALL Americans, born and preborn, he is unfit to hold a position of authority in this country and should step down immediately."

Catholic involvement

In 2018, the U.S. Catholic bishops similarly challenged Collins for defending NIH fetal tissue research and saying it “will continue to be the mainstay.” At the time, Greg Schleppenbach, associate director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, called Collins’ comments “deeply disturbing.” 

Collins previously told CNA, in 2020, that he considers the question of whether it is ethical to use human embryos and aborted fetuses for research an "important issue to think through carefully."

"I would be the first to say we should not be creating or destroying embryos — human embryos — for research, and we should not be terminating pregnancies for research," he said at the time. “But if there are embryos that are left over after in vitro fertilization — and the hundreds of thousands that are never going to be used for anything, they'll be discarded — I think it is ethical to consider ways in which research might make it possible to utilize that information to help somebody.”

He added, “likewise, if there are hundreds of thousands of fetuses that are otherwise being discarded through what is a legal process in this country, we ought to think about whether it is more ethical to throw them away, or in some rare instance to use them for research that might be life saving.”

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