The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will no longer fund research using tissue from aborted babies, following a trajectory begun in September 2018. HHS announced last week it had discontinued a funding contract with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), for HIV research involving mice with humanized immune systems using aborted fetal tissue.
The $13,799,501 contract came under review last fall when HHS put its funding program for research using fetal tissue from abortions under audit and review. At that time, the Food and Drug Administration canceled an agreement with fetal tissue procurement company Advanced Bioscience Resources.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which falls under HHS oversight, has renewed the funding for the UCSF project annually since 2013. HHS said in a statement last week it will “discontinue intramural research … involving the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortion” while continuing to fund research into alternative tissue sources.
Ongoing research contracts that are funded by the NIH but not conducted at NIH labs will not be affected, according to HHS, but new applications for grants for research using fetal tissue will be subject to a review by an ethics advisory board.
Jonathan Imbody, vice president government affairs for the Christian Medical Association, called the decision courageous on the part of the federal government. “This combination of adhering to life-honoring ethical standards while also aggressively pursuing and investing in scientific innovation is the best path to solid advances in medicine that every American can support and many patients can embrace for healing,” he said in a statement.
Abortion advocates and some scientists sounded the alarm that halting research using fetal tissue could endanger advances in disease prevention and treatment.
UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood said the HHS decision “will undermine scientific discovery and the ability to find effective treatments for serious and life-threatening disease.” Meanwhile, the chancellor rejected plans last month to expand the university’s relationship with Dignity Health, a Catholic-affiliated hospital network, based on its refusal to perform abortions, euthanasia, or transgender surgeries.
Doug Melton, co-director of Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute and president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, said that “today, fetal tissue is still making an impact, with clinical trials underway using cells from fetal tissue to treat conditions including Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and spinal cord injury.”
But David Prentice and Tara Sander Lee, two doctors with the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, pointed out that the HHS decision won’t affect those studies, which use fetal stem cells rather than fresh tissue, don’t show any success, and rely on private funding rather than taxpayer dollars.
Last week’s decision, Prentice said in a statement, shows the government’s “investment in scientifically proven methods for research” that do not require tissue from aborted babies and “have been used in the production of treatments, vaccines, and medicines currently on the market; the key is that our government will now invest in effective research methods that do not rely on the destruction of human life.”