WASHINGTON - Yesterday, President Trump's Department of Health and Human Services released a statement announcing a halt to funding of any research using human fetal tissue, a move that could impact Boston's own robust medical research industry. While fetal tissue research at universities and privately funded institutions will not be effected, some fear this will lead to a total ban on fetal tissue research, noting that the statement read: “promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration.” This move was hailed by pro-life groups - such as The Susan B. Anthony Group, Students for Life of America - and Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who oversees NIH funding.
Many scientists from the National Institutes of Health believe that fetal tissue - obtained from elective and legal abortions - is a vital part of medical research. The tissue has been used in numerous HIV and childhood cancer research programs. Top scientist at the NIH, Francis Collins, believes “there’s strong evidence that scientific benefits come from fetal tissue research.”
Anti-abortion activists such as The Susan B. Anthony List are opposed to this method, and have been trying to end medical research on fetal tissue for some time now. However, despite their work to create viable alternatives to fetal tissue testing and their claims that other methods are equally effective, most scientists agree that fetal tissue testing - and its benefits - cannot be replaced by other methods. This is particularly true in diseases such as the Zika virus, which uniquely effect pregnant women and fetuses. Fetal tissue in these cases is used both to study the pathology of the disease as well as research possible cures. Additionally, those in favor of fetal tissue use note that voluntary abortion fetal tissue samples are otherwise discarded when not used in research.
While the HHS announcement does not pertain to privately funded research and research conducted by universities would be allowed, all new and current projects are subject to review by the ethics advisory board. And while it is still unclear how many research projects will be impacted by this move, many feel this pro-life stance is another casualty of the Trump administration's restrictions on abortion rights.