Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Escape, 8/24/2020: The “Not Watching The GOP Convention” Edition.” Item #3, Fetal Research Ban

Bioethics is perhaps the most murky area of ethics of all.  I am grateful for Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day taking on the task of making the counter-argument to yesterday’s post highlighting Professor Turley’s objections (and mine) to the Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board, appointed by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, voting to block 13 out of 14 applications for fetal tissue research. Chris makes as good a case as can be made in defense of the decisions, but I don’t think he has much to work with; as I suggested in the post, this is an uncharacteristically easy call. I’ll return at the end to explain why; in the meantime, here is Chris Marschner’s Comment Of The Day on Item #3 in the post, “Ethics Escape. 8/24/2020: The “Not Watching The GOP Convention” Edition:

Before I go any farther, I believe that fetal tissue is crucial to research. With that said, I can see an argument in favor of the Board’s decision to deny access to such tissues. [Commenter Ryan Harkins] and I may agree with Turley that such reasearch use of fetal tissue does not incentivize women to have abortions. However ,I do believe it incentivizes sellers of such tissues. Such sales make a commodity of aborted fetal tissues and the of other human tissue donations; this is not some far-fetched fear. Do we want to be like China, which forcibly removes kidneys so that others can have a transplant?

Imagine a society that becomes insensitive to the concept of the sanctity of life. It is not outside the realm of possibility that we could begin to allow doctors to withhold life saving but costly treatments in order hasten the demise of a potential donor. For example: assume we have a 28 year old MVA victim with severe head trauma. His intercranial pressure has exceeded 30 for weeks and doctors have told the family that it is unlikely that he will ever recover significantly. After 3 weeks in the ICU the medical costs have risen to about $275,000. Are we at the point that we are going to say, “Let’s stop throwing good money after bad. The guy is an organ donor and he is a match for a person in need.”  Are we willing to let doctors or insurers make that call to take the patient off the vent so he can become a heart donor? I certainly hope not.

This could have happened to my step son who did make a reasonable recovery and lived for 15 more years. We need to incentivize doctors to save all lives not just the ones that can yield the greatest overall lifetime value as is recommended by Dr. Ezekial Emmanual.

I don’t know if there is any way to evaluate this except on moral grounds. Ethically, you are not harming anything directly and may actually create great long term value. But this analysis is predicated on speculation as to the future costs and benefits. When I started thinking about the law, the concept of the fruit of the poisonous tree came to mind. I know that abortions are legal but I am looking at this from the point of view as to why we prohibit the use of evidence of a crime using Constitutionally proscribed methods. We are willing to throw out all sorts of incriminating evidence that ties a serial killer to a crime (waste) to protect the rights of the many. It is for that larger more important purpose that we are willing to waste valuable evidence and let a killer go free. The concept is a doctrine not a law that courts use to create a significant deterrent for law enforcement to not take shortcuts. Making fetal tissue available only for the most important research priorities and denying it to most would create a relatively high quasi-valuation that reflects how we as human being value that which had the potential of becoming a fully formed human being.

There is no doubt that human fetal tissue is an important research commodity. However, it might be wise to evaluate how the costs of collecting and storing such tissues is recovered and who is permitted to do such collections. Widespread collection and sales of fetal tissues hastens the insensitivity to human life. It seems reasonable to not want to see a valuable research commodity simply incinerated as medical waste, but it is equally reasonable to foresee the inevitability of abuses with respect to marketing, production, and distribution of human body parts for profit.

Sometimes keeping the genie inside the bottle is a prudent call.


I’m back, but just to say that upon re-reading Chris’s piece, I’m going to address his points in a free-standing post after I’ve had three cups of strong coffee. It will be coming up soon.


9 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Escape, 8/24/2020: The “Not Watching The GOP Convention” Edition.” Item #3, Fetal Research Ban

  1. I haven’t done a ton of research on the matter, but I’ve heard it suggested that there’s nothing inherently valuable about the use of -fetal- stem cells. That stem cells can be pulled and utilized from other sources, including from fat cells. I do recognize the importance of the research, although I also hesitate for all of the reasons Chris lays out. If there’s the slightest possibility that the research and treatments can be accomplished without any taint of connection with the exploitation of the death of innocents, we should make every effort to connect those dots. If, however, it is uniquely fetal stem cells, then we need to treat it with all of the reluctance and reverence the doctors and scientists of old treated grave robbery and practice on human cadavers. Grisly, grim, but important enough to risk the (proper) punishment and condemnation of society for. The problem is when society begins to glorify the grave robbers, instead of being repulsed by them.

    • There is a unique characteristic to fetal stem cells such that until the blastocyst begins to for the neural tube all stem cells have not yet undergone differentiation. This means that any stem cell can become any type of tissue with its associated function. After differention a stem cell from the heart cannot become the basis of treating another organ.

      • The technical term is omnipotent stem cells in fetal tissues versus plurapotent stem cells in developing embryo’s.

        I had a brain lock earlier and could not remember the terms

  2. It’s an interesting theory, incentivization. I’m sure at this point, we’ve all seen the Project Veritas video of the Planned Parenthood ghouls discussing their catalogs of unborn baby parts, and the price tags attached to each that obviously went over and above “processing” fees.

    The unapologetic capitalist in me sees a future where mothers are paid to get abortions, because the product that is their children is worth more to the system in pieces than they are worth alive, and at some point, the more monetized the process gets, the more likely the “patients” will clue in and demand part of the proceeds for their contributions. And if you think we have an abortion crisis now…. You just wait until poor people are told they can supplement their income by shedding unwanted pregnancies. Although, by that time it won’t be a crisis, because the product will be in demand.

    What’s worse is that I don’t know what the natural stopgaps between there and now is. The right has been losing ground on this issue for quite a whole, because the left has a point: There are conflicting rights issues; The right to life on the part of the child, and the right to liberty on the part of the mother, and we, that is a general “we”, that encompasses a lot of disparate groups, tend to value existing lives more than potential lives… It’s a trolley car exercise. It’s that stupid burning clinic example. The lives aren’t worthless, but we value them less. And once you reconcile those rights and say that that potential child’s rights are superseded by her mother’s, then really… where’s the stopping point between that point and fetal tissue on shelves at Wal Mart? Hell, to an extent, we already do that, it’s a little pricey for WalMart, but we’ve been using baby foreskins to treat burn victims and for facials for decades. Oprah sells baby-penis-parts cream under the brand name “SkinMedica”, which is ironic when you think of it.

    The other thing to consider is the argument that’s been made here before, where and I quote; “If you legalize it, you incentivize it”. I’m on record saying that I don’t know if that’s a good enough reason for the government to continue to continue to criminalize behavior that doesn’t have much effect outside of the possibility of ruining the life of the person participating in the behavior (for the home crew, I’m talking about pot).

    I would love to hear the argument that says that we should continue to criminalize pot, because people should not be able to make choices pertaining to their own consumption, but we should open the doors to fetal monetization, because doctors should be able to profit off mothers who kill their unborn.

    • Larry Niven wrote a number of stories in his ‘Known Universe’ series where he took the organ donation problem to its logical(?) extreme. Basically he posits that when all organs from a healthy body can be harvested to save lives or improve lives — assuming basically everything can be transplanted — well, then why shouldn’t all condemned criminals have their bodies harvested for organs?

      Once you are on that slope, how likely is it that society will call for the death penalty for more and more offenses — because the organ banks are always needing to be replenished. His story illustrating the ultimate punishment is where it shows habitual traffic citations, over time, become a capital crime.

      Not to mention the black market in organs and organleggers killing folks to harvest their organs (and when I say organs that means everything, including skin and blood).

      It’s a classic science fiction take on a trend, using the age old question ‘If This Goes on……’

      • Honestly, I wonder if it would be so bad if we had mandatory harvesting of any and all viable organs from anyone who dies, except for those who opt out; I’d think that would at least reduce the organ shortage, and decrease temptation to take drastic measures to get organs.

  3. Where there are ethics and morals, there is politics.

    Where there is politics, there are unavoidable priorities, and vice-versa.

    There are unavoidable priorities where there are pregnancies.

    Therefore, as long as abortion is feasible, there will be forever unsettled, unresolvable conflicts of – even contradictions between – various ethics, morals, law, priorities, policies, and pregnancies.

    All comments preceding this one in this thread are much appreciated.

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