The Heal Without Harm Initiative is a package of two complementary bills, the “Unborn Child Disposition and Anatomical Gift Act” (SB 424) and the “Fetal Remains Respect Act,” (SB 423) which seek to advance scientific research and demonstrate respect for unborn children by 1) providing families, doctors, and scientists with ethical sources of fetal tissue; 2) requiring final disposition for human fetal remains; and 3) prohibiting the future exploitation of aborted children for fetal body parts.
- Why are these bills needed?
Wisconsin has an extraordinary opportunity to lead the nation by championing research that is ethical, innovative, and effective. Such a commitment to heal without harm would make our state a destination for scientists who wish to pursue research free of ethical controversy.
Currently, some research at both public and private labs around the state utilizes fetal tissue derived from aborted children. This has caused ethical dilemmas for researchers who do not want to experiment on this type of tissue. It has also disturbed many members of the public who do not want to receive medicines and medical treatments that are derived from the unjust taking of human life.
- Don’t scientists need fetal tissue to develop life-saving cures?
No one disputes that fetal tissue is used to advance treatments for diseases and chronic conditions. Currently, fetal tissue is being used to find cures for many diseases, from autism and cancer to diabetes and schizophrenia, to name a few. The issue is the source of the fetal tissue. It can either come from intentional deaths, namely abortion, or from natural or accidental deaths, namely stillbirths and miscarriages (commonly referred to as fetal loss).
Scientists currently have a greater supply of fetal tissue from abortion clinics, whereas there are fewer places that collect and distribute tissue from fetal loss. This gap is what the Unborn Child Disposition and Anatomical Gift Act seeks to address.
- Why the urgency now?
This issue is especially urgent because scientists are beginning to use fetal tissues and cells to directly treat patients who have vision loss, spinal cord injuries, and Parkinson’s. If we do not support and promote the use of ethical tissues, patients will increasingly face the difficult choice of an unethically-derived cure versus no treatment.
- Won’t research restrictions result in lost jobs and a weaker Wisconsin economy?
If enacted, the two bills will no doubt encourage new avenues of discovery and attract new researchers and biotech firms. Indeed, the 2007 discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) at the UW-Madison and the University of Kyoto was made possible in part because of the desire to find ethical alternatives to human embryonic stem cells. Today, Wisconsin is one of the leaders in the billion dollar iPS industry.
In addition, the Fetal Remains Respect Act permits the use of aborted fetal tissues obtained before January 1, 2017, thus allowing research in progress to continue.
- If abortion is legal and if the aborted fetus will be discarded anyway, isn’t it better to use it to find life-saving cures for others?
The dependence on tissue derived from the abortion industry legitimizes abortion, creates a demand for it, and further embeds it in our educational and medical institutions. While the Heal Without Harm Coalition does not condone abortion, all people can agree that any woman who chooses to end another human life should not be given an incentive to do so.
Ethically, it is never right to commit a wrong, even if good can come out of it. Human beings must never be treated as a means to an end, however noble. An aborted unborn child did not consent to her destruction. Full respect for her requires that she receive a proper burial, not dissection and experimentation.
Finally, just because unethical research may continue elsewhere does not justify doing it here. We don’t condone medical experimentation on prisoners just because other countries are doing it. There is another way and Wisconsin can lead the way.
- But weren’t some vaccines derived from aborted fetuses?
Yes, but not to the degree we perceive (see pages 376-379 in the U.S. House of Representatives Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives Final Report). Moreover, the fact that unethical practices occurred in the past does not mean that they need to continue to occur today, especially when ethical alternatives exist. Science could discover all kinds of things and with much greater speed if there were no ethical limits on human experimentation. Ethical limits exist to make certain that vulnerable members of the human family are not exploited.
- Don’t researchers already adhere to the highest ethical standards in obtaining fetal tissue?
Researchers must abide by the standards established at their institution. However, the public has the right to know what these standards are and whether they actually protect vulnerable human subjects. Currently, these standards are not made public and even some researchers are unaware of the source of the fetal body parts in their laboratories.
Indeed, there is recent evidence that some researchers received aborted fetal body parts that were procured wrongfully. For example, the 2016 U.S. House of Representatives Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives Final Report found that abortion clinics sometimes illegally altered their abortion practices in order to produce the most desirable fetal specimens for researchers. In other instances, some women were allegedly coerced into donating their aborted children’s remains, or were not fully informed about what would be done with their children’s remains.
If one looks at the history of scientific experimentation in the U.S., it is evident that self-regulation within the scientific community does not always adequately protect vulnerable populations. Instead, it was public outcry that led legislators to stand up to researchers. For example, the researchers who conducted the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study using impoverished African Americans and the Willowbrook State School hepatitis study using children with disabilities strongly defended their actions and denied they were acting unethically. However, public pressure halted the studies and spurred Congress to pass legislation protecting human subjects in medical research and granting civil rights to people with disabilities (i.e., Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA).
Members of the public and members of the Legislature have a vital role to play in advancing scientific research while protecting human life.
- Is there sufficient ethical fetal tissue to meet research need?
Yes. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that abortions are now about the same number as stillbirths/miscarriages. In Wisconsin, the DHS reports that in 2014, 317 stillbirths occurred after 20 weeks gestation. DHS also reports that in 2015, 359 abortions occurred between 16-20 weeks and 56 after 20 weeks, for a total of 415 abortions. However, as with other organ and tissue donation, many people are not aware that this gift is possible. This is why the Unborn Child Disposition and Anatomical Gift Act is so vital.
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Want to know the difference between the Heal Without Harm Legislative Initiative and last year’s fetal tissue bill, AB 305/SB 260? Find out here.
See what other states have done to address the grisly trade of aborted baby body parts.