Last year, the world was shocked by a series of undercover videos which showed the relationship between abortion giant Planned Parenthood and human tissue providers. The videos, made by the Centre for Medical Progress, brought to light the ethical and legal ramifications of using aborted foetal tissue for research purposes, and eventually led to a congressional hearing, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. As in the US, the practice of using aborted fetuses for research is legal in Australia, although it is subject to various limitations, but it is unlikely that the majority of Australians know about the extent or frequency of its occurrence. It is also apparent that many Australians have a conscientious objection to being involved in such research, even if that involvement is as consumers of a product developed from the research.
The documented history: 1994-2002
A 2003 article from the Medical Journal of Australia sheds some light on the use of aborted fetuses in Australia. The paper, The Use of Human Fetal Tissue for Biomedical Research in Australia 1994-2002, states that Australian researchers have been using aborted fetus tissue since 1980, and that there were 12 institutions using fetal tissue from 1994-2002. During that time, 74 papers documenting such research were published. Most samples were taken from babies at 14-18 weeks' gestation, but the range included 8-20 weeks.
In 2002, there were only three institutions in Australia that collected and distributed fetal parts for research purposes, all of them found in New South Wales. These were the Diabetes Transplant Unit (DTU) at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, the University of Sydney and an unknown researcher in Newcastle.
Since that article was released in 2003, there doesn't appear to have been any similarly honest reporting of the use of aborted fetuses in Australia. It isn't difficult to see why, given the instinctive repulsion most people have to the thought of this dehumanising kind of research. Such experimentation does still occur, of course, and researchers have no qualms about stating the source of their fetal material. After all, the 'ethics committees' of their governing bodies have approved the studies.
A Perversion of Ethics?
One such 'ethics committee' is the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Prince of Wales Hospital and University of New South Wales (UNSW). In 2008, the committee approved a project which involved the use of aborted foetuses for transplantation into mice. With the mothers' consent, pancreata were taken from the bodies of babies aborted from 8 to 20 weeks gestation. The experiment also used pancreata obtained from babies aborted in Ontario from 10 to 23 weeks gestation. The researchers explain that the mice were anesthetized before the transplantation procedure; no such information is given regarding the procedures performed on the preborn humans. The experiment involved two parts: transplanting a human fetal pancreas into a mouse, then inducing diabetes using the chemical streptozotozin, and 'humanising' the mice with human umbilical cord blood cells. This creates an organism known as a 'chimera', whose immune system responds as a human. Ironically, humanising mice is problematic to some ethicists who are concerned about animal experimentation.
A more recent example of research involving aborted fetuses, is a 2014 paper which studied gestational age versus niche, and involved researchers from the University of Qld, the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, the Royal Brisbane's Centre for Advanced Prenatal Care, Griffith University's National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research, the Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies and the Glasgow Institute for Infection, Immunity and Inflammation.
From the paper:
The Human Research Ethics Committees of the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital and the University of Queensland approved the tissue collection. Women gave written informed consent for the use of fetal tissue for research purposes after clinically-indicated termination of pregnancy in compliance with national research guidelines.
Fetal MSC from bone marrow (BM) and placental tissues [chorionic membrane (CM), and chorionic villi (CV)] were obtained from three donors at five time points across the first trimester (8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 weeks).
This research was partly funded by the Australian Government, through the Australian Research Council. The ARC's Special Research Initiative exists to fund "new and emerging fields of research".
Another article published in 2014, describes research using aborted babies from the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth. Samples were taken from the brains of 2 16-week baby boys, and research was approved by the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children's Human Ethics Committee. Additionally, 50 samples of brain tissue from babies aborted at 22-33 weeks were imported from the US for this experiment. This research also involved the use of stem cells derived from three human embryos.
When reading article after article involving the use of aborted fetuses, it becomes clear that there exists a kind of addiction to scientific discovery, to new and ever more complex instruments and procedures. This addiction seems to blind researchers to the fact that they are relying on medical terminations in order to further their work. While there is an emphasis on obtaining consent from mothers, the fetuses haven't consented to their own deaths, much less to having their bodies dissected, cultured and studied.
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