Bioethics Blogs

Planned Parenthood, Tissue Donation, and American Politics: A Call to Separate the Debate in the Media

by Macey L. Henderson, JD and Brianna L. Doby

The controversy over Planned Parenthood seems to be as old as time in American politics, but now the public perception of donated tissue for medical research might be at stake. Most recently, a video surfaced alleging to show the Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood engaging in what appears to be the buying and selling of tissue from fetuses to a start-up biotech firm. Let’s be clear: This is not the first attack on Planned Parenthood, nor will it be the last. However, this undercover investigative effort by the somewhat mysterious scientific Center for Medical Progress is a ripe opportunity to get the facts straight about the reality and current practice of donated tissue for research or transplantation in the United States. It is against federal law to buy or sell human tissue in the United States (42 U.S. Code § 289g–2 – Prohibitions regarding human fetal tissue). It is also legal, safe, ethical, and practical to pay for the transport of donated tissue for medical research.

Here are the facts:

  • The legal termination of a pregnancy can provide the opportunity for tissue donation to medical research.
  • Donated fetal tissue has been used in medical research since the 1930s, and was integral to the development of the polio vaccine (and the 1954 Nobel Prize in Medicine).
  • Facilities that recover tissue do so after they have obtained informed consent based on Best Practices for Biospecimen Resources.
  • Without donated tissue, biomedical research and innovation to save and heal serious medical conditions would be hindered.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.