Bioethicist: ‘We have commodified … babies and baby parts’

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( — “Have we reached a point in our society where there effectively is an for human parts, entire babies?” Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) asked the witnesses at a special hearing on bioethics and fetal tissue on Wednesday.

Dr. Gerard Kevin Donovan, a pediatrician and bioethicist at Georgetown University, responded that the practice of using tissue from aborted babies for government-funded research “shocks my conscience and it should shock the conscience of the nation.”

“You know, we have commodified what have been referred to as the ‘products of conception’ — I mean, babies and baby parts. And yes, they are for sale, supposedly to cover one’s costs, but those costs seem to be quite variable,” Donovan said.

“But even if they were given away free, it is shocking to be ordering what you want: ‘Can I have a boy fetus, or a girl fetus or a brain or a heart or a liver?

“This is totally in distinction to the honorable transplantation industry that is life-saving and shows great respect for the donors.”

Paige Comstock Cunningham, who heads The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, told the panel, “My concern is that researchers have come to count on induced abortion for their research…What have we come to where researchers need induced abortion to do their research?”

On the other side of the issue, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told the panel she felt like a time traveler: “Perhaps we have been transported back to 1692 to the Salem witch trials, where fanatics persecuted and murdered innocent people who had committed no offenses.” (She was talking about medical researchers who legally use fetal tissue, not the fetuses themselves.)

Speier said this time, those being burned at the stake are “scientists who hold future medical breakthroughs in their hands” as well as “women’s healthcare providers who are simply trying to care for their patients.”

Speier asked the panel if it was “ethical” for two pro-life activists to pose as fetal tissue buyers on repeated visits to Planned Parenthood clinics, where they secretly videotaped staffers. “They are the reason we are here today,” she said.

In response to Speier’s question, Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said the “attempt to deliberately create distorted videos for a political purpose, to tarnish an organization that helps millions of women, was profoundly unethical and destructive.”

The hearing did not advance any solutions, nor did it examine laws passed by Congress that allow fetal tissue research. But it did provide another opportunity for both sides in the contentious abortion debate to repeat their strongly held views.

The special panel was convened by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

— Written by Susan Jones