The Use of Fetal Tissue From Abortions For Research: Acceptable or Exploitation?

Planned Parenthood was subject to national attention and scrutiny in late 2015 after videos surfaced that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of fetal tissue from abortions for research. In response, an investigative panel was formed by the House of Representatives. In its first hearing, the panel engaged in a heated debate on the use of any fetal tissue, not just from abortions, for research purposes. While it seems that everyone can agree that this practice raises ethical concerns, there is sharp disagreement about what should and should not be permissible. Especially in the case of elective abortions, many argue that fetal tissue should not be used for research under any circumstances, even with the woman’s consent. One advocate even took the position that a woman who elects to have an abortion should not have the ability to give consent in the first place. Other opponents of fetal tissue research argued that such research could create an industry that may exploit a vulnerable and voiceless population. On the other hand, those who support the research took a utilitarian approach and explained the importance of tissue research for scientific advancements that could benefit a vast number of people.

While the panel’s focus may seem narrow to some, it implicates a host of ethical and legal questions: What right should a patient have to dictate what happens to his or her bodily tissue after a medical procedure? Should the answer depend on whether the procedure was elective or medically necessary? Should the potential benefit of fetal tissue research outweigh the risk of exploitation? What is our duty to protect vulnerable populations, such as women seeking abortions and their unborn fetuses? For now, these questions remain unanswered. The panel, however, will meet again in the next few months to hear arguments of additional witnesses and further discuss the issues at hand.


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