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Spokane fetal tissue researcher: Trump ban not crafted carefully

Stem cells are shown suspended in a cell culture for biomedical diagnostics. (Shutterstock / Shutterstock)
Stem cells are shown suspended in a cell culture for biomedical diagnostics. (Shutterstock / Shutterstock)

The Trump administration ended fetal tissue research for government scientists on Wednesday. This move doesn’t have anything to do with reducing abortions, but only serves to punish those who research with those materials, Terry Hassold, Washington State University molecular biological sciences professor, said.

“Nobody has abortions in order to donate their tissue to research,” Leslie Francis, University of Utah philosophy and law professor, said. “They have abortions for other reasons, and then the question is, what to do?”

In 2016, the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service hosted a discussion on fetal tissue research, and Hassold and Francis were both panelists. Hassold uses fetal tissue to research chromosomal abnormalities in pregnancy.

The ban does not affect government-funded university research, according to the Health and Human Services Department, though it did shut down an HIV treatments study at University of California, San Francisco. Hassold’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, a research agency within the HHS.

Though Hassold’s work isn’t affected, he is worried about what the ban might grow into in the future.

“Elective terminations are legal,” Hassold said. “There are rules that are very well set out and followed related to research on those tissues. They’re spelled out closely, they’re monitored by the federal government, by university review panels.”

Francis said with this type of research, there are ethical considerations that need to be weighed concerning respect for the tissue itself and the mother, as well as the potential benefits for research.

“I don’t think there’s a yes-or-no, across-the-board answer to the ethics of the use of this kind of tissue,” Francis said.

The ethical question for William Kabasenche, Washington State University clinical associate of philosophy, is when the issue of donation is raised. Kabasenche organized the panel.

“From my perspective, one of the most important things would be to insulate the decision to terminate a pregnancy from any subsequent decisions about donating fetal tissue,” Kabasenche said.

Kabasenche is disappointed that President Donald Trump does not have a bioethics council to assist with these decisions.

“These are quite complicated ethical issues, and I’ll say as a bioethicist, it’s disappointing that there isn’t that kind of expertise being provided in the attempt to think about and then make policy regarding what I think are complicated bioethical issues,” Kabasenche said.

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