HHS ends last research program to use human tissue from abortions

shutterstock 1168340341 Sign outside National Institute of Health, Department for Health and human Services, Washington DC. Via Shutterstock

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it declined to renew a contract with the University of California that funded a research program which used fetal tissue obtained from abortions.

The decision, announced June 5, follows a "comprehensive review" by the Department of Health and Human Services, announced in September 2018, into any research involving fetal tissue. The review set out to find "adequate alternatives" to avoid the use of human fetal tissue altogether. At the time, HHS promised to "ensure that efforts to develop such alternatives are funded and accelerated."

The review identified a program at the University of California, San Francisco, that used fetal tissue, and the determination was made not to renew its federally-funded contract. The non-renewal means that the National Institutes for Health (NIH) no longer funds any research that involves aborted remains.

The research program involved the use of bone marrow, thymuses, and livers from aborted babies which were used to create mice with human-like immune systems. The "humanized mice" were then used for testing and experimentation.

An official statement from the Trump administration said that the canceled contract was further evidence that President Trump was pursuing pro-life goals throughout his presidency.

"This is consistent with that direction and there will be continued work on the pro-life agenda throughout the rest of the first term and the second term as well, and so we will always work to err on the side of life in all critical decisions that come to the Oval Office at the president's direction," said the statement quoted on Fox News.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) called the canceled contract an "important step toward stopping the barbaric practice of using the body parts of aborted babies for research."

In a release to media, Smith called the practice of using aborted remains "unethical" and "ineffective," claiming that it has not produced "a single clinical treatment."

Smith said that other techniques, which do not involve the use of any fetal body parts, exist, and are "proven ethical alternatives for this life-saving research."

The announcement comes just one day after House members moved to prevent federal funding of other controversial research.

Since 2016, the appropriations bill has contained a rider that prohibits the federal Food and Drug Administration and NIH from conducting research or funding trials involving gene editing of embryos or human germlines.

The rider was dropped from a draft of the 2020 appropriations bill, but an amendment was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday to restore the language.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), the ranking member of the agriculture subcommittee, spoke at the Tuesday Appropriations Committee meeting in favor of maintaining the prohibition on embryonic gene editing.

Fortenberry said that human genetic experimentation is loaded with ethical questions largely unaddressed by researchers, and that funding unknown research could take away from effective treatments.

"If we cede this framework of science and ethics to maverick bioengineers who are detached from larger societal considerations, the risks of harm are real, and we will divert these resources away from real, viable alternatives," said Fortenberry.

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