Sometimes the crazy anti-abortion fringe is all over "a controversial issue" before we as abortion providers are ready to talk publicly about it. Well, not this time! I am willing to talk about fetal tissue, what happens to it, how we treat it, and how donation of fetal tissue could help science and mankind.
I just read an anti-abortion newsletter that was so ranting and inaccurate that it inspired me to respond. At the same time, we are exploring the donation of fetal tissue for research. This seems like such a positive thing, especially when there is a lockdown on support for embryonic stem cell research.
This anti-abortion person is claiming that there is no "public record of what happens to fetal cadavers", which is a fascinating re-framing of what all government regulations treat as "hazardous waste", as they do any human tissue, be it blood, tumors, parts removed by surgery etc. There are very strict guidelines about how all human tissue is handled, and medical waste is a very well regulated business, the Sopranos not withstanding. It is ultimately buried or burned. But of course, the real reason for the rant is that the anti's want to be able to harass the medical waste people, the operators of the incinerators, which are often hospitals, and of course US! And this moral outrage comes from the people who have literally stolen fetuses from pathology labs, clinics, etc. and paraded them around in shoe boxes, pawed through them on video, and generally exploited--not respected--fetuses.
In my clinic, we wash off the tissue and examine it. It is treated respectfully and put with the woman's first name into a container. We show it to patients if they ask to see it, and make sure they understand which part is the sac (later the placenta), which part the pregnancy if visible (after 9 weeks), and which part the lining of the uterus. People have been known to pray over it, write notes for inclusion, "baptize" it, etc etc. Some clinic staff have also been known to say a little prayer over it--thanking it for its sacrifice so that the woman could continue on the path she was on.
We are now exploring giving the option for women to donate fetal tissue to research efforts. This would be completely at the discretion of the woman, but typically women feel that "something good can come of this" and agree to it enthusiastically. The whole process is highly scrutinized and regulated by an IRB--Institutional Review Board whose job it is to look at the ethics of research and using human subjects. And by law no one can be compensated for participation--not the woman, not the clinic, doctor, or institution. It is simply illegal, and you can bet that the high profile practice of abortion would get a thorough looking over.
I am belaboring this point because this anti-abortion newsletter details the "selling of body parts" with outrageous price lists. They are reprising a story that has long been discredited. A pathology lab was infiltrated by an anti, to inform on the abortion industry, but instead created a set up of lies and sensational fabrications. One small point will show you how none of their accusations would even make sense: all samples sent to the lab by clinic like ours were packed in formalin, a very toxic preservative that destroys all research value.
But the good news is that, in certain situations, much good can come out of a fetal tissue research program. All the flap about embryonic stem cells from leftover in vitro fertilization is moot, since the decision has been made by the woman to terminate the pregnancy. Fetal stem cell lines are already showing promise in certain medical therapies. Ironically, because of the partial ban on stem cell research by the Bush Administration, other countries are forging ahead with the research, and American scientists are trying to associate themselves with scientists in other countries. The problem with this is that standards are different in other countries and there are not the stringent guidelines and protections that there are in this country. Another misguided Bush policy that creates a worse situation than it was trying to fix.
I am imagining how different the debate might be if the American public knew that incredible advances in science and medicine came because women were generous enough to think of others in the midst of their difficult time.