by Don C. Reed

You may have heard that the Trump administration intends to reduce or eliminate funds for fetal cell research (FCR).

Is this important? And why do they want to eliminate this medical research?

Fetal cell research (FCR) involves tissues derived from an abortion.

No one, I think, is actually in favor of abortions: “…the ending of a pregnancy due to removing a…fetus before it can survive outside the uterus”.

It is a sadness. In an ideal world, there would be no abortions. Every pregnancy would be planned; every child would be healthy and wanted: born to capable and loving parents.

But reality is otherwise. Until the world changes, there will be abortions: an estimated fifty-six million around the world every year.

Laws affecting this procedure vary, nation by nation. In America, abortions are legal until the fetus can survive outside the womb: roughly 20 weeks.

Most can agree that abortions should be safe, legal, and few. In 2015, the last year of the Obama Presidency, a record was set for the fewest abortions: 638,169 in the U.S., approximately twelve per thousand births.

Now. Let us seem to change the subject, but we’re really not.

For scientists to develop cures, or for doctors to administer them, they need cadavers — donated bodies and organs — to learn from.

When my cousin died in an car crash, his mother had to make the wrenching decision to donate his organs. But years later, she met a man who was alive today through the gift of her son’s heart. After his own death, my cousin had saved somebody’s life.

After I die, I want any part of me still useful to be donated to science.

Organ donation just makes sense. What if someone blind could regain vision from eyes no longer useful to me? Or a liver, or a heart?

Deeper emotional pain applies to that subject few people want to talk about: fetal tissue research.

Why does this matter? Think of polio, a disease which ravaged the world until Jonas Salk developed the vaccine in 1954. Had polio not been conquered, it would now be costing America more than $100 billion a year. There would need to be actual hotels — for people living in iron lungs.

Have you seen an iron lung? A big metal tube encasing your body, so only your head sticks out? A machine makes a vacuum, which noisily helps you breathe, while you lie there, waiting to die.

Instead of that misery, the polio vaccine has saved literally millions of lives, roughly 550,000 people a year. Those families, also, are saved from medical bankruptcy.

But what if the polio vaccine had been against the law?

The Salk vaccine was developed and tested on fetal tissues.

Done since the 1930s, fetal tissue research has not only wiped out polio, but also eliminated rubella — which used to kill 50,000 babies a year through miscarriages. Fetal tissue was used for vaccines against measles, mumps, chickenpox, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis A and rabies — all conditions which once killed people.

Today, fetal cell research is being used to try and defeat the Zika virus, as well as to develop therapies which may eliminate HIV/AIDS. Fetal tissue research might also help end or lessen Early Pregnancy Loss — miscarriages which cost the lives of nearly a million infants every year.

“Since 1994, these vaccines saved society an estimated $1.38 trillion dollars”.

Massive regulation controls the obtaining and use of fetal tissue. There can be no profit in its sale (beyond reimbursement of costs), and it can only be authorized once an abortion has been selected. A very clear explanation of the various rules was put together by the Congressional Quarterly.

But should we do it? Wisconsin Bioethicist Alta Charo said it best:

We have a duty to use fetal tissue for research and therapy…Virtually every person in this country has benefited from research using fetal tissue…every child who’s been spared the risks and misery can thank the…scientists who used such tissue in research yielding the vaccines that protect us… fetal tissue research (has) saved the lives and health of millions of people.”

Unfortunately…When Vice President Mike Pence (R) was governor of Indiana, he signed a law that every aborted fetus must be buried or cremated. This would essentially criminalize the research.

The bill was so extreme a judge struck it down as unConstitutional.

What was then-Governor Pence’s reasoning, signing HE 1337 into law?

It would, he said, “ensure the final dignified treatment of the unborn.”

Dignity after death…Is that really what is most important here?

Imagine two children: one is desperately ill, the other is dead. Using cells from one may save the other. If you do nothing, you will have to bury both.

Do we protect the dignity of the dead — or fight for the life of the living?

Want more in-depth information from an authoritative source? Here it comes.

First, to give the Republican side, here is a January, 2017 hearing (an attack, written by conservative Republicans) on fetal cell research. The committee was chaired by Marsha Blackburn, Chair, Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives.

Next is a September, 2018 letter of support for the research, written by the American Association of Medical Colleges, with multiple group support.

Finally, here are very short selections of support, drawn from groups:

They may be read in their entirety (2–3 pages long, for each one) at:


“Understanding human development at each stage is important to translate discovery from basic research to applications that enhance health. For example, primary human astrocytes derived from human fetal tissue…are used to understand dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier, which…contributes to mortality… in multiple sclerosis, encephalitis, traumatic brain injury, and stroke.

“Joined by more than 60 scientific and academic organizations, The AAMC stands by its statement, that: restrictions on fetal tissue research…would limit new research on vaccines not yet developed, for treatments not yet discovered, for causes of diseases not yet understood.” — Darrel G. Kirch, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Medical Colleges


“The use of fetal tissue has been an important factor in the development of numerous lifesaving vaccines for children (including)…chicken pox, hepatitis A, polio, rabies, and rubella…it is estimated that for just children born between 1994 and 2013, “vaccination will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes…The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its strong commitment to continued federal funding for fetal tissue research.” — Bernard P. Dreyer, MD, President, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a non-profit professional organization of 64,000 primary care pediatricians.


“Representing more than 57,000 physicians and partners in women’s health, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is committed to fostering improvements in all aspects of the health care of women…Although ACOG does not conduct fetal tissue research, we recognize the value of medical research in improving the lives of our patients. As an organization of physicians and other women’s health care practitioners who work every day to save and improve women’s lives, (we) strongly support the continued practice of such research…” — Mark S. DeFrancesco, MD, President American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.


“The use of fetal tissue for medical research has … allowed scientists and physicians to develop new treatments for both adult and pediatric illnesses, because disease-causing mutations target fetal cells specifically. Fetal tissue has been used to seek treatments and cures for patients who suffer from devastating diseases, including diabetes, Down syndrome and rare blood disorders.” — Peter M. Grollman, Senior Vice President, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia


“Research using fetal tissue makes it possible to examine how viruses and other ailments affect a developing brain. Using (fetal tissues) scientists can study brain tissue in the petri dish and better understand how viruses and other diseases progress and how best to stop them…” — Dr. Hans Snoeck, Professor of Medicine in Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University Medical Center.


“As nerve cells degenerate (from ALS) the muscles they control… stop working and ALS patients typically die of suffocation… Injecting a certain type of fetal cell into mouse ALS models appears to protect the existing cells from degenerating….” — Paul B. Rothman, M.D., CEO, Dean of Medical Faculty, Johns Hopkins Medicine


“Fetal cell lines have been used in medical advances…including an arthritis drug and therapeutic proteins that fight cystic fibrosis and hemophilia. Understanding degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and a host of other devastating…conditions, depend specifically on access to fetal tissue. Ongoing fetal tissue research is critical for continuing advances in regenerative medicine, including organ/tissue regeneration of heart, liver, pancreas, lung, muscle, skin, and more, holding out hope for a wide variety of therapeutic discoveries. — Harriet S. Rabb, Vice President and General Counsel, Rockefeller University


“This type of research has helped improve our understanding of numerous health issues including early brain development, neurocognitive disorders, maternal and fetal health conditions, congenital heart defects, Down syndrome, and other infectious diseases…For example, in HIV/AIDS research, the use of fetal tissue has been crucial to developing animal models that can mimic the human immune system. Having an animal model that can generate a human immune response is crucial to developing much needed vaccines for this terrible disease and others, such as Hepatitis C virus, Dengue virus, Epstein Barr virus and Cytomegalovirus. — Daniel Dorsa, PhD, Senior Vice President for Research, Oregon Health and Science University


“Positive findings in Parkinson’s disease have led to clinical trials evaluating fetal cell-based treatments for other (nerve) disorders such as Huntington’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and injuries to the spine. Clinical trials with cells from fetal tissues are ongoing for age-related macular degeneration and chronic liver disease.” — Michael D. Amiridis, Chancellor, University of Illinois at Chicago


“One researcher…procured fetal tissue…to conduct research (on) the impact of environmental toxins, to (guard)people from environmentally-induced disease… — Cynthia Wilbanks, Vice President, Government Relations, University of Michigan


“Research using human fetal tissue…was critical in…research to develop an intervention to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. That research alone has saved over 1 million infants in the past 10 years, while also reducing elective abortion in HIV-positive women by more than half in this country.”

— Brooks Jackson, MD, MBA, Dean of Medical School, University of Minnesota


“One of the most promising areas of research involving the use of human fetal tissue is the study of how and why congenital abnormalities develop in a fetus. Congenital abnormalities occur in 3–4% of pregnancies and cost society billions of dollars per year in long term disability care, and incalculable emotional toll on patients and families. ..Human fetal tissue research enables scientists to learn…how abnormalities arise…This understanding (may) lead to treatments that could decrease the frequency of the anomalies and to appropriate postpartum treatments that may improve the quality of life for the patients.” — Susan E. Phillips, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Health


“(Fetal) cell line WI-38, derived at the Wistar institute in the early 1960s(resulted in) 1,387 published studies focusing on such diseases and conditions as multiple types of cancer, cell growth, cell aging, anti-cancer drugs…” — Robert N. Golden, MD, Dean, School of Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison


“In 1988, the Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research Panel…provided an important public forum to consider the scientific value and ethical acceptability of fetal tissue research, hearing testimony from lawyers, ethicists, religious leaders, biomedical researchers, clinical physicians and the general public, including families with children afflicted by disease and disability. …the panel determined that the research was in the public interest with the potential to help millions…To abandon this approach would significantly impede…the alleviation of human suffering…” — Robert J. Alpern, MD, Dean of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine

Don C. Reed  (sign up for my free newsletter!)   

Don Reed is author of the new book, “CALIFORNIA CURES! How the California Stem Cell Program is Fighting Your Incurable Disease!”  available now at For a 20% discount, use code “WSPY2PP20”! 

Reed is also Vice President of Public Policy for Americans for Cures Foundation; opinions voiced here as an individual may or may not reflect those of the Foundation. 


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