Fetal tissue research

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Not to be confused with stem cell research.

Fetal tissue research is research that is done on dead fetuses for a plethora of reasons, particularly for advancements in medicine. Because literally anything associated with dead fetuses is considered controversial, there's a lot of questions over whether or not fetal tissue research is unethical. The arguments against fetal tissue research typically are repeated verbatim from anti-stem cell research politics.


Fetal tissue research is research involving the usage of cells from dead fetuses that were garnered for establishing cell lines, utilization as transplantation material, etc. The cell lines are established by raising fetal cells in such a way that they'll continue to multiply whilst in laboratory dishes. This is able to be used to test how a drug affects genetic material. This also allows for various infections to be tested with the cell lines.

With regards to transplantation, fetal tissues lack the cell-surface markers that are found in mature tissue. Mature tissue is rejected by the immune responses in transplant recipients. So, fetal tissue is more desirable, as this tissue is able to eschew the body's defensive reactions. Secondly, some areas of the body don't regenerate after birth, or after a few years of existence, so the utilization of mature tissue for transplantation isn't possible. Finally, fetal cells are superior to mature cells in one extra way because they can transform into any cell in the body.[1]

Fetal tissue is either obtained from elective abortions or from spontaneous abortions (miscarriages). The research into fetal tissue is not a recent advancement at all; it has been occurring since the 1930s, surprisingly enough.[2]

Fetal tissue has been used to research HIV, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, COVID-19, hepatitis B and C, eye development and diseases, and many other conditions.[3] There is likely a vaccine you took that was manufactured using fetal tissue, such as the polio vaccine.[4] So, you could make fun of an anti-abortion advocate by reminding them that to be anti-fetal tissue research is to be pro-polio.[note 1] Most funding for fetal tissue research goes to studying HIV/AIDS. Fetal tissue is immensely adaptable and flexible,[note 2] and thus has allowed HIV/AIDS studies to be conducted more easily.[5] In one example, fetal tissue has allowed for the creation of a plenitude of mice that have humanoid immune systems.[5]

Fetal tissue is legally obtained and would literally be disposed of if it wasn't used in research,[5] so pro-life crowds don't have any argument here.[citation NOT needed]

Induced abortions are the most expedient way of obtaining fetal tissue—this of course sends conservatives into hysteria because this is supposed "murder" of fetuses. The truth of the matter is, there aren't good alternatives to induced abortions. For instance, the tissue of stillbirth fetuses tends to be nonviable and generally not at the developmental stage needed for transplantation.[6] The truth is that abortions that happen spontaneously often result from genetic and developmental abnormalities in the fetus.[7][note 3]

Actual ethics[edit]

Fetal tissue research is ironically enough, held to an extremely high ethical standard in the United States. Please note that policies regarding fetal tissue research differ elsewhere; the United States is being exclusively focused on as fetal tissue research is seldom discussed in other countries.

Transplantation of fetal tissue[edit]

For research on the transplantation of fetal tissue, according to the National Institutes of Health, the following must be attained:

  • That the donator of the fetal tissue signs a statement explicitly proclaiming that the donation is being made for therapeutic transplantation research, and that there is no restriction regarding the identity of the recipients, whilst not knowing themselves who the recipients are.[8]
  • That the physician signs an additional statement saying that they've obtained the tissue with the donor's consent given from the donor's statement, and that the physician is open to the donor about what they plan to do with the fetal tissue and if there are any medical or privacy risks to the donor.[8]
  • That the physician also proclaims that they have received consent for the abortion or consent with regards to the tissue being used, that the timing, method, or procedures were not hastened solely for quickly acquiring the tissue for research, and that the abortion was executed according to state and local laws.[8]
  • That the principal investigator signs yet another statement verifying that they are aware the tissue came from spontaneous abortion, induced abortion, or a stillbirth, that the tissue was bestowing for research purposes, that this information has been shared with others associated with the research, and that the patient will be made aware of this.[8]
  • That the principal investigator also did not take part in deciding the timing, method, or procedures executed for the abortion.[8]

Despite this patently debunking what the right-wing in the United States has been yelling for eons, most of those who oppose fetal tissue research is likely completely ignorant of how many obligations there are in fetal tissue research. It would be rather uncomfortable for a pro-lifer to admit they were erroneous, as they'd then have to abandon their entire world view.


A picture of a fetal kidney taken via virtual microscopy of fetal tissue at 23 wee—I mean, THE KIDNEY OF A CHILD MURDERED BY RADICAL LEFTIST SCIENTISTS!!!

As per usual, conservatives are put into perpetual ire over anything involving a donor rendering fetuses to medical research, primarily because of their pro-life perspectives. This has led them to conclude that researching cells in dead fetuses is equivalent to operating on a murdered person. To be perfectly frank, these people generally aren't much different from standard anti-abortion and anti-contraception crowds. If anything, it can be argued that the opposition to fetal tissue research is a part of the larger ongoing assault on reproductive rights.

As stated previously, fetal tissue research is particularly controversial in the United States, which might just be the single most unsurprising fact regarding this situation. Research tends to be more tolerated in countries that have higher acceptance of abortion.[5]

United States and Canada[edit]

During the bygone era of 2016, a video was heavily altered to make it look like Planned Parenthood was improperly handling fetal tissue.[9] In response, a special House of Representatives panel issued subpoenas on pivotal fetal tissue research. These subpoenas were utterly absurd; they didn't just ask what was done with regards to research, but it also demanded the reasons behind every utilization of paraphernalia. Several groups involved with this bedlam suspected that it wasn't so much an investigation into how fetal tissue research was done, but rather, an attempt to outright antagonize scientists.[10]

Fast forward a few years later, and the Trump administration somewhat clandestinely assailed fetal tissue research. In 2019, the administration halted all further use of fetal tissue by government scientists and placed restrictions on researchers from seeking grants from the National Institutes of Health for fetal tissue studies.[11] In 2020, an ethics board —that was convened by the Trump administration—rejected most fetal tissue research proposals outright. They recommended that the United States refuse to fund 13 out of 14 proposals to commence medical research on human fetal tissue donated after elective abortions. Ten out of fifteen members of the board stated their opposition to abortion, fetal tissue research, embryonic stem cell research, and contraception.[note 4] So, this certainly was not a bipartisan commission, as the board was greatly in opposition to scientific research on fetal tissue.[12] Luckily, under the Biden administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra reversed several restrictions on fetal tissue research that the Trump administration imposed during their reign.[13] Due to the restrictions that had been in place, many projects were stopped dead in their tracks, reversing years of progress.[14]

The COVID-19 vaccine, specifically the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine, used a fetal cell line to fabricate their vaccine. Please note, this doesn't mean that fetal cells are present in the vaccine itself, but rather, that the fetal cell line was used to test the vaccine before its completion.[15][note 5] Of course, instead of acknowledging how cool this is, conservatives went batshit about purported "moral violations." In 2020, a bevy of senior Catholic leaders in the United States (and Canada) decried COVID-19 vaccine candidates that were specifically made using the cells from fetuses that had died decades ago. They pleaded with the government to "incentivize" firms not to rely on fetal cells for vaccine development. They primarily advocated for the usage of vaccines that were "alternatively" developed; i.e., not made using fetal cells.[16]

But here's the $64,000 question, what alternatives did these medical experts propose? The group recommended "other cell lines or processes that do not involve cells from abortions."[17] So, what are "other cell lines or processes" exactly?


We're waiting...

An actual alternative?[edit]

I get very frustrated when misinformed people go on about how it can all be done with computer models or cell cultures or stem cells or animals. In some areas, the human is absolutely dramatically different than rodents.
—Paul Fowler[5]
Scientific research with fetal tissue is vital for the development of new treatments for many deadly diseases and conditions, such as cystic fibrosis and acute lung injury. There are no alternative research models that can replace all fetal tissue research.
—Veena Antony, MD[18]

Putting the debate over whether fetal tissue should be obtained via induced or spontaneous abortions aside, there are more radical positions too. Some may question why fetal tissue research even continues in the first place. As mentioned previously, it has existed since the 1930s. So, why haven't we switched to something else? Why can't scientists find something just as efficient as fetal tissue to experiment on? Well, here's an inquiry, what alternatives do you propose? It's a lot harder to answer than you think. Fetal tissue is desired because there's no better choice,[5] it is patent that mature cells have many problems that fetal cells do not have in the slightest, as fetal cells can become any cell in the body (pluripotency), and can grow rapidly even in new environments.[5] There is nothing better than what currently exists.[5] If there already was an alternative to fetal tissue research, it would feasibly become dominant for the sole fact that so many people oppose research on fetal tissue. Scientists may abandon fetal tissue if an alternative to it arises somehow. But as it currently stands, the closest we can get to that point is mere reminiscence. Fetal tissue saves lives and is extremely effective; that's why scientists research and test on it.[5]

Again, a fetus is not a human, and it never will be.[citation NOT needed]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. Then again, you run the risk of said pro-lifer being anti-vax.
  2. Plus, fetal tissue is above-par as a source of stem cells.
  3. "Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn't developing normally. About 50 percent of miscarriages are associated with extra or missing chromosomes. Most often, chromosomal problems result from errors that occur by chance as the embryo divides and grows — not problems inherited from the parents."
  4. Interestingly, the only member on the board in outspoken support of fetal tissue research was a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego. It's almost as if, non-scientists have no idea what they are talking about in the slightest.
  5. Use your critical thinking skills, why would fetal cells randomly be present in the COVID-19 vaccine?


  1. "What is fetal tissue research? And why is it important to medicine?", Edwards Erika, NBC News. Published on June 9, 2019. Retrieved on July 31, 2021.
  2. Institute of Medicine (US) Conference Committee on Fetal Research and Applications. Fetal Research and Applications: A Conference Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1994. Setting the Stage: Fetal Research, Fetal Tissue Research, and Historical Timeline of Regulation and Legislation. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK231997/
  3. "Here's What You Should Know About Biden's New Rules For Fetal Tissue Research", McCammon Sarah, National Public Radio. Published on April 16, 2021. Retrieved on July 31, 2021.
  4. "Research Using Human Fetal Tissue". American Medical Association. Retrieved on July 31, 2021.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 "The Truth about Fetal Tissue Research", Wadman Meredith, Nature magazine. Published on December 9, 2015. Retrieved on July 31, 2021.
  6. Garry DJ, Caplan AL, Vawter DE, Kearney W. Are there really alternatives to the use of fetal tissue from elective abortions in transplantation research? N Engl J Med. 1992 Nov 26;327(22):1592-5. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199211263272211. PMID: 1435888.
  7. "Miscarriage", Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on July 321, 2021.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "Human Fetal Tissue Research", National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on September 4, 2021.
  9. Planned Parenthood says covertly filmed videos were heavily altered: Organization sends analysis to Congress finding videos of officials discussing fetal tissue were edited by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress by Amanda Holpuch (27 Aug 2015 14.04 EDT) The Guardian.
  10. "Vital fetal tissue research threatened by House of Representatives subpoenas", Redden Molly, The Guardian. Published April 1, 2016. Retrieved on August 1, 2021.
  11. "Trump administration halts fetal-tissue research by government scientists", Reardon Sara, Nature magazine. Published June 5, 2019. Retrieved on July 31, 2021.
  12. "New U.S. ethics board rejects most human fetal tissue research proposals", Wadman Meredith, Science Magazine. Published on August 18, 2020. Retrieved on July 31, 2021.
  13. "Update on Changes to NIH Requirements Regarding Proposed Human Fetal Tissue Research", Department of Health and Human Services. Published on April 16, 2021. Retrieved on July 31, 2021.
  14. "Biden Administration Ends Limits on Use of Fetal Tissue for Research", Mandavilli Apoorva, The New York Times. Retrieved on April 17, 2021. Published on July 31, 2021.
  15. "COVID-19 Vaccines & Fetal Cells", Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved on August 1, 2021.
  16. "Abortion opponents protest COVID-19 vaccines’ use of fetal cells", Wadman Meredith, Science Magazine. Published June 5, 2020. Retrieved on July 21, 2021.
  17. https://web.archive.org/web/20200708071302/https://www.sciencemag.org/sites/default/files/Letter-to-FDA-urging-ethical-COVID-vaccines.April%2017%202020.pdf
  18. "ATS Concerned by Trump Administration Action Halting NIH Fetal Tissue Intramural Research", American Thoracic Society. Published June 5, 2019. Retrieved on September 4, 2021.