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Panel recommends resuming fetal studies.

Panel recommends resuming fetal studies

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) advisory panel concluded last week that the use of cells and tissues from aborted fetuses in biomedical research is "morally acceptable."

Following three days of lively and sometimes heated discussion, the 21-member panel of researchers, religious leaders and bioethicists put aside the ethics of abortion long enough to agree that the promising science of fetal cell transplantation should proceed in the United States, with certain restrictions. It remains unclear, however, whether President Reagan will preempt the panel's work by signing an executive order banning fetal research.

In the past few years, several lines of research in animals and humans have suggested that fetal cells may prove valuable in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, diabetes and other disorders. In March, Assistant Secretary of Health Robert E. Windom temporarily banned all federally funded research involving fetal cell transplants, saying legal and ethical concerns first needed to be addressed. Meanwhile, such research continued in Sweden, Mexico, China and elsewhere, with ambiguous results.

"We have approached the point where I believe it is unethical not to try this with human patients," said panelist Lars Olson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where two women with Parkinson's disease received fetal cell transplants last winter. Although it's too early to be certain, he said, "it appears that we are seeing minor positive changes in the two patients."

Other researchers provided evidence of the therapeutic potential of fetal cells for a range of neurologic and biochemical disorders. But some theologians and representatives from anti-abortion groups testified that to use tissues from intentionally aborted fetuses makes biomedical researchers "accomplices to murder." Moreover, they asserted, a woman's decision to abort creates an "adversarial relationship" between mother and fetus, and calls into question her moral right to donate the aborted tissues to scientific research.

"The abortion question was in the background, howering over us all the time," says Arlin M. Adams, a retired federal judge who chaired the panel.

The panel's final recommendations, which will include provisions to limit the commercialization of fetal tissue, are to be presented to NIH officials Dec. 1.
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Title Annotation:National Institutes of Health on fetal tissue use
Author:Weiss, Rick
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 24, 1988
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