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Controvery Over Fetal Tissue Research

Fetal tissue research is an ethical battlefield, the controversial nature of which is exacerbated by its link to the abortion issue. In question is the moral status of the fetus versus the scientific imperative to perform biomedical research for the benefit of society. Pro-life advocates contend that the fetus is a living person deserving of respect, even in death. Many in the scientific community regard the fetus as nonessential living tissue of unsurpassed value in clinical and basic experiments. In between these two opposing viewpoints is an elusive middle ground.

Fetal cells possess remarkable characteristics that are highly prized by medical researchers and practitioners. These cells are highly durable and can thrive under conditions that would thwart the viability of adult cells. Once transplanted, fetal cells exhibit prodigious growth capability; they even appear to secrete chemical growth enhancers. The likelihood of rejection of fetal cells is minimal because of their plastic quality. Cells in the embryonic stage have not yet been encoded with rigid biological imprints; therefore, fetal tissues are less specialized than their adult counterparts: "In an adult, tissue is highly specialized--muscle tissue cannot take on the work of the liver--but cells taken from fetuses, perhaps into the third trimester, retain much of their adaptability" (4:51). Fetal tissue also has the ability to restore damage in the host environment and to replace biochemical functions (4). In extolling the virtues of fetal cells, one neurosurgeon remarked, "There's something magic about them" (5:52).

The abundance of fetal tissue is another benefit that makes fetal research attractive. The best fetal cells for use in medical applications come from elective abortions, of which 1.5 million are performed each year. Most abortions occur in hospitals and clinics, where fetuses can be readily harvested and stored. In contrast, most earl...

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Controvery Over Fetal Tissue Research. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 17:42, May 24, 2020, from