Updated at: 28-05-2022 - By: Sienna Lewis

Fetal tissue donation: Do you know what it is? Learn more about fetal tissue donation and fundamental research on it by reading this article. A comprehensive guide to this topic is also available here.

The term “fetus” refers to the developing embryo from the end of the eighth week of pregnancy, when the fetus’s structure begins to take shape, until the kid is born.

The tissues of dead human fetuses or offspring are donated for research purposes when the embryo dies owing to any errors, chronic bleeding, or spontaneous abortion, or naturally. Continue reading to learn more about fetal tissue donation.

Where Was The Donation Of Fetal Tissues Go?

It is common for doctors and researchers to receive fetal tissue from various different sources (e.g. clinics, donation banks funded by the Institutes of Health, and local abortion providers). Second-person donors often serve as a beginning point, acquiring, testing and shipping tissue directly from the source to the research facility.

12 Fetal Tissue Research Facts - What You Need to Know About Fetal Tissue Research and Donation

12 Things You Should Know About Fetal Tissue Research and Donation

Human fetal tissue comes from aborted fetuses

Nine weeks after conception, a human embryo develops into a fetus (the 11th week of pregnancy). Human embryonic tissue or organs can be obtained through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or induced abortion for research purposes. Medical researchers prefer, however, to use fetal tissue obtained through forced abortion, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service on fetal tissue. Ectopic pregnancies and spontaneous abortions are particularly risky for women’s health, therefore “fetal tissue gathered in these circumstances is typically not acceptable for research reasons.”

Fetal tissue is hard to replace in research.

Fetal tissue is used by scientists for a variety of purposes. Tissue is used to create cell cultures that may be kept in a laboratory for an extended period of time. Cells grown in a lab mimic many of the features that they have in a living organism, making them useful models for researchers researching basic biological processes, according to a CRS report. In a December essay in Nature, Carrie Wolinetz, the National Institutes of Health’s associate director for science policy, described why fetal tissue is so important to scientists and researchers. ‘Fetal tissue’, she explained, is “a flexible, less-differentiated tissue” Scientists can investigate basic biology or use it as a tool in ways that adult tissue cannot be recreated since it grows quickly and adapts to different conditions.

A computer model or simulation program cannot simply substitute this tissue. Akhilesh Pandey, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the Baltimore Sun that “it’s ideal to study the real thing” while studying a process. He’s been studying cancer for more than a decade with fetal tissue. Models can be insufficient when it comes to emulating what we wish to investigate. Even now, we still don’t know all about the workings of the human body. Only skin and cartilage can be grown in the laboratory, not organs. In this case, the interplay is more intricate.”

Fetal tissue has been used in medical research since the 1930s

In spite of the controversy, research on human embryonic stem cells has been going on for nearly a century, and “virtually every person in this country has benefited” from it, wrote Alta Charo, a leading bioethicist and professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Law and School of Medicine & Public Health, in the New England Journal of Medicine. Charo’s findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Thank you to the Nobel Prize winners and other scientists whose research yielded immunizations that protect us from chickenpox, rubella, and polio, every child can thank them” (and give even the unvaccinated the benefit of herd immunity). For nearly a century, this study has been continuing on, and the vaccinations it has created have been in use for the same period of time.”

It continues to play a critical role in research today

When asked by Cosmopolitan.com about human fetal tissue’s significance in the search for an Ebola vaccine and novel treatments for HIV/AIDS, N.I.H. press media chief Renate Myles said that it “continues to have a crucial function.” Researchers studying retinal degeneration, pregnancy loss, human development problems including Down syndrome, and early brain development with implications to autism and schizophrenia will find it invaluable. The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a public health emergency due to fresh fetal tissue research. Restrictions on the use of fetal tissue in research may hamper efforts to learn more about the virus.

Researchers get fetal tissue from several places: abortion providers, tissue banks, or a company supplier

“Abortion clinics at their own institutions,” “tissue banks maintained by some colleges,” and “[m]any corporations that function as intermediaries” are all sources of fetal tissue for researchers, according to the New York Times. Nature reports that only “a handful of [Planned Parenthood] clinics in two states supply fetal tissue for research,” and the Times reports that abortion providers are paid “small fees” for fetal tissue specimens, which providers say are reimbursement costs, despite the controversy generated by the videos. Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, has stopped seeking reimbursement for fetal tissue in the few locations where it was gathered in reaction to the controversy.

To recoup their costs, the companies that prepare the tissue offer it to scientists at a premium, with vials costing upwards of $2,000 per item. Even so, it’s not against the law. In an interview with the New York Times, the creator of a prominent fetal tissue provider explained that price increases are due to the high costs of removing cells or tissue, preserving them and exporting them. Isolating certain fetal cells can “require millions of dollars of technology” and cost “thousands of dollars,” according to StemExpress creator Cate Dyer, and there is no assurance that it will work. There is a legal gray area, however, because federal law prohibits the suppliers from profiting from the tissue itself, but does not stipulate how much they can charge for processing and delivery.

The federal government has supported the use of fetal tissue for medical research for decades

Since the 1950s, the National Institutes of Health have financed studies with fetal tissue. More than 50 colleges, including Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, received grants and projects totaling up to $76 million from the National Institutes of Health in 2014.

There are numerous restrictions on federal funding of human fetal tissue used in research

National discussion about fetal tissue donation and usage in research took place after abortion was legalized in 1973. This led to legislation that said that patients may not be offered money or compensation to have an abortion and that researchers “would have no influence in any decisions as to the time, technique, or procedures that are used to terminate a pregnancy,” which was a result of a government committee.

Transplants made possible by human fetal tissue were no longer allowed after the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 was passed into law by President Bill Clinton. Human fetal tissue transport, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control and storage are all covered by the legislation and can be reimbursed at fair rates. Women must give their consent to an abortion before being questioned about fetal tissue donation, and they have no control in how that tissue is utilized once it is donated. Only federally sponsored fetal tissue transplant research is covered by Clinton’s laws. Nevertheless, “most clinics and most researchers strive to follow the same federal standards, even when it is not necessary, because it has kind of become established practice,” noted Charo.

The Ethics of Fetal Tissue Donation | TPR

Most states have laws regulating fetal tissue donation.

The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, a 1968 framework for regulating the donation of human tissue, organs, and body parts, has been implemented by every state. “UAGA laws that specifically regard fetal tissue the same manner as other human tissue, allowing it to be donated by the woman for research, therapy, or education” are found in 38 states and Washington, D.C. It’s unclear whether the remaining 12 UAGA statutes in these states allow or forbid the donation of fetal tissue. Guttmacher reports that in addition to federal rules, some states have specific regulations prohibiting the sale and procurement of fetal tissue or requiring patient consent before donation.

A growing number of states arecurbing the ability to use donated fetal tissue for research — and some have outright banned the donation of fetal tissue

Fetal tissue research has been banned in some states, even several that explicitly allow for fetal tissue donation. This means that even fetal tissue that has been legally given from abortions cannot be used for scientific purposes. As a result of the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute reports that five states have proclaimed an absolute ban on fetal tissue donation, making them “the first laws to ever outlaw the donation of fetal tissue,” according to the Guttmacher Institute. No matter what legislation were in place at the time, fetal tissue donation is now banned, according to Heather Boonstra, director of public policy at Guttmacher. It is presently illegal in South Dakota to collect or use fetal tissue for research purposes, while in Indiana, the state’s restriction on fetal tissue donation mandates the cremation or burial of aborted children. According to Guttmacher, eight states have legislation prohibiting fetal tissue donation and/or fetal tissue research.

These new laws are a taste of things to come, I believe. Similar restrictions have been passed in at least one chamber of four additional states, while 28 states have introduced legislation targeting fetal tissue research since the Planned Parenthood videos emerged.

The anti-abortion debate has stalled fetal tissue research before

The Guttmacher Policy Report states that after Roe v. Wage legalized abortion in 1973, “antiabortion politicians in Congress seized on fetal tissue research as a weapon in the campaign against abortion.” An interim ban on federal funding of fetal tissue research was put into effect following the debate in anticipation of the creation of ethical guidelines for the use of fetal tissue in federally financed research. Fetal tissue transplant research flourished until 1988, when the Reagan administration slapped a halt on all federal financing of studies using fetal tissue. To address the question of whether or not fetal tissue transplantation is ethical, a new nonpartisan ethics commission has been established. Ethical use of aborted human fetus tissue was found to be acceptable by this commission. Reagan, on the other hand, defied the commission’s advice and decided to keep the moratorium in place. “The job went on, it simply went on more slowly, and went on, of course, in other nations,” Charo said. On December 31, 1993, President Clinton signed an executive order ending the ban.

Several anti-abortion conservatives previously supported fetal tissue research

Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan together with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum all voted to lift the prohibition on fetal tissue research in the 1990s, despite their current anti-fetal tissue research stances. During a 1992 Senate debate, former Republican minority leader Bob Dole even said that lifting the restriction on such research “is the true pro-life position.” According to MSNBC.

The current attacks on fetal tissue research pose a serious threat to medical breakthroughs around the world

The number of fetal tissue samples available to researchers has fallen sharply in recent years, with many researchers either suspending their research or no longer accepting applications from researchers seeking fetal tissue from abortions performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, according to the New York Times. New York University’s Langone Medical Center’s head of medical ethics, Dr. Arthur Caplan, told Nature that the abortion debate “absolutely puts fetal tissue research at risk” because it deters young scientists from entering a field “where funding is uncertain and physical threats are a real possibility.” American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is concerned about the current inquiry into fetal tissue researchers and procurement companies by the House of Representatives Some state and federal politicians are working hard to obstruct or even criminalize fetal tissue research, limiting the ability of our leading scientists and researchers to develop new vaccines and medicines that can prevent and treat disease,” according to an organization statement that condemned the hearings. Politicians’ interference in this research might “stifle U.S.-based medical development, leaving us to rely on other countries to create treatments for our own patients,” according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Fetal Tissue From Abortions for Research Is Traded in a Gray Zone - The New York Times


What is fetal tissue donation?

From the embryonic stage (at the end of the eighth week after conception, when most of the key structures have formed) until delivery is called a human fetus (Latin for “offspring”). Tissue (including complete organs) can be legally donated for research purposes after the fetus dies, either naturally or through an abortion.

Where do fetal tissue donations go?

Biomedical researchers collect fetal tissue from several sources, such as local abortion clinics, hospitals, charitable tissue banks (one of which is financed by NIH), etc. Vendors often play the role of middlemen, procuring tissue from the point of origin and bringing it to the laboratory for further study.

Is fetal tissue donation ethical?

When it comes to the ethics of fetal tissue donation, the most important considerations are around how the infant died and the parental consent. Ethical fetal tissue donation from spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or an extrauterine pregnancy (pregnancy that develops outside the mother’s uterus) is not considered unethical by the majority of Christian ethicists. This is similar to a parent agreeing to donate the organs of a kid who has died of natural reasons because such contributions are similar. Nevertheless, if the fetus is destroyed while still in the womb, the donations are morally polluted. Donations like this are ethically involved in the killing of the unborn, and they send a message that we support a continuous government that condones this practice.

A researcher who enters into an established cooperation with the abortion industry as a supplier of preference, as bioethicists James Bopp and James Burtchaell put it, “becomes involved in the abortions that expropriate the tissue for his or her objectives, however after the fact.” On the other hand, some argue that informed consent is not necessary. A parent should be entitled to donate fetal tissue if their fetus died of natural reasons unless the other parent objects.

Even more controversial is the belief of many that, “the pregnant woman’s consent should be necessary for donation—that is, the father should not be able to authorise donation by himself, and the mother should always be asked before fetal tissue is utilized.” However, there is no consensus on the issue of consent when the tissue is collected as a result of a termination of pregnancy abortion. After terminating a pregnancy by an abortion, some ethics experts argue that the woman relinquished the responsibility of guarding and proxying for the cadaveric remains of her unborn child. Others argue that because the dead fetus has no rights or interests to preserve, the mother woman has the moral and legal right to select how the tissue should be disposed of.

How is fetal tissue used?

Life-saving vaccinations have been developed using fetal tissue, both legitimately and unethically obtained. Vaccines produced from embryonic kidney cells received the 1954 Nobel Prize in Medicine. In addition, a widely utilized measles vaccine was created using fetal cells. Abortion or ectopic pregnancies were both sources of the tissue.

However, more recent vaccines for diseases like chicken pox, hepatitis, measles, mumps, poliomyelitis, rabies, rubella, and small pox have included cells from aborted fetuses. (For additional information on vaccine ethics, visit this article.) Experiments on diabetes and Parkinson’s disease were also conducted in the 1980s and 1990s using fetal cell lines. The use of fetal cells in biomedical treatments has been mostly abandoned due to studies showing that they were ineffective. Medical ethicist at NYU Langone Medical Center, Arthur Caplan, adds that fetal tissue isn’t utilized very often these days and that when it is, it’s primarily for studying fetal disease and development. Research in the United States isn’t a large or key component of it. Cosmetics and anti-aging lotions have employed fetal tissue from aborted fetuses in the past as well.

What laws cover the transfer of fetal tissue?

UAGA, which was established by all 50 states and the District of Columbia in late 1960s and early 1970s, governs the transfer of human cadaveric tissue, including embryonic tissues. The Institute of Medicine report states that, in general, the UAGA allows either parent, subject to the known objection of the other, to donate fetal tissue following spontaneous or purposeful abortions for research, education, or transplantation. The use of fetal samples following an abortion in some research is restricted in several areas. There are no federal restrictions on research on dead fetuses as long as it is done “in conformity with any applicable State or local laws addressing such operations,” according to federal regulations (45 CFR 46.210).

Understanding Fetal Tissue Donation — and Why It's Such a Divisive Topic

Is it illegal to sell fetal tissue?

Directly selling fetal tissue is unlawful. The companies that acquire, transmit, and dispose of tissue can be reimbursed for their efforts, though. This topic is covered by two separate statutes. It is illegal to buy human organs, including those that have been developed in a fetus, for human transplantation under 42 U.S. Code 274e and 274f. This law most likely does not apply because the fetal tissue is more likely to be used for research than to be transplanted into a living human. According to 42 US Code 289g, it is illegal to obtain, receive, or transfer human fetal tissue “for valuable consideration if the transfer impacts interstate commerce” by anyone with knowledge of the law.

Valued consideration” does not include “appropriate compensation related with the transportation, implantation,” “processing” or storage of human fetal tissue, as defined by these statutes. “Solicitation or acceptance of tissue from fetuses gestated for research purposes” is prohibited under 42 U.S. Code 289g. There can’t be any solicitation of tissue for transplantation or use of tissue that was made exclusively for the goal of aborting a baby and taking its tissue or organs from a fetus. However, this appears to only include human tissue that was “deliberately begun” during a pregnancy. Under federal law, tissue donated following an abortion can be used for scientific purposes.


You can get answers to all of your queries concerning fetal tissue donation in this page. Take your time reading this essay in order to properly grasp its content. For more donation articles, see how much egg donation costs and what embryo donation is all about. Thank you so much for your consideration!