Science

3 Things Congress Got Wrong in its Fetal Tissue Report

Contra Congressional Republicans, fetal tissue has been used to make vaccines for rabies, chicken pox, shingles, Hepatitis A, polio, rubella, and the adenovirus.

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STEVE GSCHMEISSNER/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Newscom

This week marks the end of the House of Representatives panel looking into fetal-tissue procurement by U.S. research companies. Using tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research is legal in America, though profiting off the sale of said tissue is illegal. Despite a 15-months-long investigation into Planned Parenthood practices regarding tissue from aborted fetuses, the now-disbanded Select Investigative Panel could not show that the nonprofit health-care conglomerate made a profit off of fetal-tissue provided to researchers.

The panel's final report suggests that fetal-tissue procurement companies DV Biologicas and StemExpress may have violated this no-profit mandate, but the most it said about Planned Parenthood was that one of its hundreds of clinics, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, "may have violated both Texas Law and U.S. Law when it sold fetal tissue to the University of Texas" by using an imprecise or unapproved method of determining reimbursement costs. The matter was referred to the Texas Attorney General's Office.

Still, the panel recommended that Planned Parenthood be barred from accepting Medicare patients going forward (a move Republicans have misleadingly described as "defunding" Planned Parenthood) and that the National Institutes of Health stop funding fetal tissue research. "Human fetal tissue research makes a vanishingly small contribution to clinical and research efforts," the panel's final 413-page report states.

But as Science writer Meredith Wadman points out, several key statements used to support the assertion that the impact of fetal-tissue research has been negligent are wholly and demonstrably false.

Wadman, a veteran science journalist with a medical degree from the University of Oxford, dissected three of these false claims yesterday, starting with the statement that "in over 100 years of unrestricted clinical research, human fetal tissue has failed to provide a single medical treatment."

In fact, "several important medicines now on the market were created using fetal tissue," notes Wadman. "Amgen's Enbrel battles rheumatoid arthritis; Genentech's Pulmozyme helps children with cystic fibrosis clear the thick mucus that clogs their lungs; and Nuwiq, made by Octapharma, treats boys and men with hemophilia, a life-threatening bleeding disorder."

Equally untrue: the Congressional panel's claim that "none of the nearly 75 vaccine formulations currently licensed in the United States is produced using human fetal tissue."

In reality, "the WI-38 and MRC-5 cell lines, derived from two fetuses that were aborted, respectively, in 1962 in Sweden and in 1966 in the United Kingdom, are used to produce" quite a few vaccines that are licensed and marketed in the U.S., notes Wadman. These include vaccines for rabies, chicken pox, shingles, Hepatitis A, polio, rubella, and the adenovirus, produced by pharmaceutical companies including Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi-Pasteur.

Along these same lines, the report's claim that "human fetal tissue has never been used to make the polio vaccine" is inccorect. Swedish scientists used fetal cells to develop and propagate polio vaccines in the 1950s; Yugoslavia did so in the 1960s; and U.S. polio vaccines made by Pfizer in the 1970s were derived from fetal-cell lines. French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur still uses polio vaccines derived from cells from an aborted fetus.

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  1. 15-months-long investigation? Drag it out long enough until no one cares?

    1. And they didn’t even do Science!!! good.

      1. Investigations have a longer gestation period than humans. While 15 months is somewhat short for an elephant, it’s perfectly normal for a rhino. Make of that what you will.

    2. +1 fake old news

  2. Just wondering, though, if there is a need for new fetal tissue. We’re still using the lines from two fetuses decades ago. I find it hard to believe we need hundreds of new fetuses every year. And aren’t adult stem cell research almost to the point that they can accomplish everything fetal stem cells can do? I just never though this was that big of an issue either way. With adult stem cells, it will be a moot debate pretty soon anyway.

    1. Short answer: yes.

      Long answer, there is a huge catalog of fetal cell lines that are readily available for overnight shipping. This infrastructure will be impossible to give up.

      That said, there’s not much argument for continued harvest.

    2. Short answer: yes.

      Long answer, there is a huge catalog of fetal cell lines that are readily available for overnight shipping. This infrastructure will be impossible to give up.

      That said, there’s not much argument for continued harvest.

      1. The argument that using them continues to victimize the victims is the same as that about kiddie porn. So something that you considered bad happened in the past; is that any reason not to make people happy by it now?

  3. I look forward to when *all* my personal care items are made from aborted fetuses.

    1. I have been working an aborted fetus powered car, but results so far have been inconclusive.

      1. Think of the unintended consequences! If we start burning fetuses for fuel, the demand is going to go up. Then where will we get our orphans?

  4. Stupid Party stumbling around for next Terri Schiavo moment.

  5. the WI-38 and MRC-5 cell lines, derived from two fetuses

    So, the correct number of abortions is 2?

    And I am laughing at the claim that those recombinant drugs were made from fetal tissues. What they mean is that the sequences were cloned from an RNA library made from fetal tissues. This is common because fetal tissues produces lots of RNA splicing variants and you don’t have to dig through as many tissues as if you use adult sources.

    However, with an extra week of effort, they could have done the same work with adult tissues.

    Source: I used to do that exact thing for a living.

    1. However, with an extra week of effort, they could have done the same work with adult tissues.

      Also, depending on how you look at it, it’s very much in the same vein where an extra week of work now (or even in the past already) pays dividends forever. Akin to insisting that wind or solar is *the* solution to AGW that we all need to invest in and that all those mitigation efforts that are paying off whether the globe warms or not can fuck off.

  6. In fact, “several important medicines now on the market were created using fetal tissue,” notes Wadman. “Amgen’s Enbrel battles rheumatoid arthritis; Genentech’s Pulmozyme helps children with cystic fibrosis clear the thick mucus that clogs their lungs; and Nuwiq, made by Octapharma, treats boys and men with hemophilia, a life-threatening bleeding disorder.”

    And Sigmund Rascher developed the life-saving hypothermia treatment technique called rapid active warming.

    The question isn’t whether we can, or what benefit we can get from it independent of the cost. It’s whether acting like this still qualifies one to a claim of humanity.

  7. Yeesh. If my fetal tissue was that ugly…

    1. You see the penis, right? It’s not just me, RIGHT?

      1. The little flat rest on the bottom makes it look more like one of those dildos you attach to a chair first.

        1. shh. Fist doesn’t know the difference.

      2. You see the penis, right? It’s not just me, RIGHT?

        I see it now! With no further comment, I’ll just say that where you see a ‘head’ I see a clenched fist.

        1. You all need to go see a penis doctor.

  8. One thing that both sides of the argument continually whiff on is this: both of the cell lines used for all of the evidence in the cited article (WI-38 and MRC-5) have been around since the 60s… The question congress should have been asking (but didn’t because they’re politicians and not scientists) is what have RECENT cell lines brought us? I don’t know the answer to that question. But the fact-checking article doesn’t establish any value in that.

    Essentially, what major contributions have been made by cell lines harvested since 1966? Basically every objectionable sentence from the congressional report that is quoted here could be made interesting and valid by just specifying that they are only talking about cell lines harvested in the last 5 decades.

    1. Oh and on a less-sciency note, I also don’t give a fuck because PP SHOULDN’T BE RECEIVING HALF A BILLION IN TAXPAYER MONEY EVERY YEAR REGARDLESS. And whenever I hear “well that $500M is different money from the money we use for abortions,” my bullshit sensor goes into overload and I black out for a few minutes.

  9. the now-disbanded Select Investigative Panel could not show that the nonprofit health-care conglomerate made a profit off of fetal-tissue provided to researchers.

    “Profit” in non-profits is a matter of accounting. If they had shown a profit, their accountants and lawyers should have all been fired. It’s unrelated to reality, of course.

    1. The non-profit hospitals in my area seem to be the only entities with enough profits to triple the size of their campuses annually.

      1. Technically, the hospital aspect is a bit awry as well since, at least in my neighborhood, some of the ‘hospitals’ use their tax exempt status to buy up land that businesses who would pay taxes on the land couldn’t possibly afford. Almost more like a giant real estate ‘non-profit’ that just happens to house and cure sick people.

        1. And all this time, I thought it was the evil tax-free churches which were starving local governments for money! /sarc

        2. What’s wrong w that? It reduces the total amount of owned land in the community that’s taxed. That’s a good thing. Best if they could buy it all & then there’d be no real estate taxes, and everybody else could reap the gains from the sale of their land to them.

    2. What’s wrong w a not-for-profit showing a profit, as long as they don’t pay dividends?

  10. “Human fetal tissue”? I thought we were agreed that fetuses are not humans. Shouldn’t that just be “fetal tissue” or “clump-of-cells fetal tissue”?

    1. I thought the argument was that they were human non-persons.

    2. I thought “parasitic tissue” would be the way to go.

  11. Does it even matter what justification they used to prevent government dollars from going to Planned Parenthood? Since when is subsidizing a non-profit or business (which it can be argued many supposed charities really are) a ‘libertarian’ position?

    Either you don’t want rent-seeking and any attempt to end it is good or you don’t want rent-seeking, but you totally want it for your pet cause. The former is called ‘free markets’ and the later is called ‘crony capitalism’. This is why no one believes supposed ‘libertarians’ when they talk about ending crony capitalism and then get so upset when their buddies get cut from the federal teet.

    1. Welcome to Reason.

      For her next trick ENB will explain why libertarians everyone neocons shouldn’t discuss abortion on the internet because crazy people own guns and, you know, women and fetuses and stuff.

    2. Planned Parenthood disclosed details about specific patients and their pregnancies to TPO clinicians so that they could persuade certain women to have an abortion if their fetuses could be sold to researchers for a higher profit.

      OMFG

  12. “Genentech’s Pulmozyme helps children with cystic fibrosis clear the thick mucus that clogs their lungs”

    Kill children and sell their body parts…for the children!

  13. I wonder what *other* wonderful cures we could achieve by killing human unpersons and using the body parts in medical research?

    I suppose it depends on how broadly we define human unpersons. They have to be human, so that we can benefit from harvesting their body parts, but they also have to be legal unpersons, so that we avoid technicalities about homicide and trafficking in human remains.

    But why limit ourselves to fetuses in creating a class of human unpersons? (((who else))) could we kill and use in medical research?

    1. The important point, though, is that the sale of human body parts must be on a nonprofit basis.

    2. You’re not going to stop abortion, so what’s the harm in using the aborted fetus for research.

      Plus, if we get enough stem cells together, they’ll recreate a Shakey’s Pizza.

      1. “You’re not going to stop abortion”

        In the same sense that “you’re not going to stop burglaries” or “you’re not going to stop arson.”

        But I bet if burglary and arson were legal there’d be more of them.

        Likewise with the abortion rate – there would be fewer abortions if abortion were illegal.

        1. And I bet the burned flesh of arson victims would be really tasty, why not sell it to fast-food restaurants?

          1. (nonprofit fast-food restaurants, that is)

          2. Medical research =/= cannibalism.

            Also, there were already more burglaries in 2014 than abortions, even with burglary being illegal so I’m not sure that actually holds up.

      2. You’re not going to stop slavery, so what’s the harm in using it to build the White House (President’s Mansion)?

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