Organizations' positions on fetal tissue research

American Life League wrote to organizations asking for a copy of their current (or most recent) statement on the following:

  • Fetal tissue, cell or organ use when that tissue is acquired from direct abortion done at any time during nine months of pregnancy
  • Human embryo research and/or experimentation
  • Human embryonic stem cell research and/or experimentation
  • Human cloning

Responses were received from:

Alzheimer's Association
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Cancer Society
American College of Physicians/American Society of Internal Medicine
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Diabetes Association
American Heart Association
American Lung Association
Association of American Medical Colleges
Epilepsy Foundation
Huntington's Disease Society of America
Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International
March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation
Muscular Dystrophy Association
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
National Parkinson Foundation, Inc.


The Alzheimer's Association supports Title I of HR 2281 and S 1902, which would allow federal funding of fetal tissue transplantation research with safeguards to protect against exploitation and commercialization of the procedure (same as 1995).

The Alzheimer's Association supports fetal tissue transplantation research only with the safeguards recommended by the NIH Transplantation Research Panel and specified in HR 2281 to assure that the two procedures, abortion and transplantation, are kept clearly separate; in particular, that a decision regarding abortion is in no way influenced by research.


This organization is in the process of updating its policy statement on fetal therapy.


That several areas of research directly related to the cancer problem have benefited from the use of human fetal tissue. To the cancer investigator, the advantage of fetal tissue is that among all biological materials, it is immunologically more "neutral" than similar tissues from infants or adults. For example, in immunology research, where the goal is successful organ transplantation, the ability to make use of fetal tissue could be critical to success in saving the lives of cancer patients. Another example is the unique lack of immunologic responsiveness of fetal tissue, which facilitates basic research into immunologic mechanisms that directly bear on tumors such as the malignant lymphomos. Other areas of cancer research, which have been shown to benefit from the ability to make use of fetal tissues, include hematopoietic (blood) stem cell growth and solving the problem of graft-versus-host disease. Policy is the same as in 1991.

In a 2001 response they add: The American Cancer Society understands that scientific research using embryonic stem cells and fetal tissue holds extraordinary potential in the fight against cancer and other life-threatening diseases currently afflicting more than 140 million Americans. However, the American Cancer Society believes that any such research should be conducted only when and if the Federal government affirms the value of this science and develops the necessary oversight and regulation to provide the protections under which such research could be pursued.

The American Cancer Society has never funded any scientific research using human fetal tissue or human embryonic stem cells. The American Cancer Society has chosen to continue funding peer-reviewed scientific inquiry that could offer alternatives to the use of embryonic stem cells or fetal tissue. Such alternatives could include the study of stem cells derived from adult or umbilical cord blood sources.

CLONING: The American Cancer Society does not support cloning of humans. The Society does support research using techniques that would further our knowledge of how cancer can be prevented, detected and cured. This may involve human cells in tissue culture in which the chromosome content would be altered.


The ACP-ASIM has no policy statements on any of these issues. As you noted in your letter, the college took a neutral position in 1991 testimony on the scientific evidence concerning abortion.


Conclusion from a nine-page report: The ACOG Committee on Ethics has offered a position that approves preembryo research but limits it according to ethical guidelines. This position advocates treatment of the preembryo with respect but not the same level of respect as is given to human persons. It is a position that will be acceptable even to those who accord full respect to embryos and fetuses but not to those who believe that full respect ought to be extended to the gamete, zygote, and preembryo throughout the process of fertilization and beyond. In arriving at it position, the ACOG Committee on Ethics considered scientific and clinical information relevant to ethical analysis, though it recognizes the role of both scientific and ethical interpretation of what cannot be simply incontrovertible "facts."

The ACOG Committee on Ethics once again acknowledges that no single position can encompass the variety of opinions within the membership of ACOG, and it affirms that no physician should be required to participate in preembryo research if he or she finds it morally objectionable. Nonetheless, it is important to public discourse and to the practice of responsible medicine that physicians become aware of the medical and ethical issues involved in the complex area of preembryo research. To advance this discourse, it is helpful for physicians to reflect on and share the basis of their own views and to recognize and explore the ethical perspectives of their patients and colleagues.


The American Diabetes Association supports the use of human tissue in biomedical research provided such use is consistent with Federal Guidelines and has been approved by the investigator's local institutional review board (same as 1989).


As of 2001, according to their web site:

"The American Heart Association does not fund scientific research that involves human fetal tissue."

"Our Research Program has funded no grants using human fetal tissue."

"The American Heart Association funds meritorious research involving cloning as part of our scientific research grant program. This includes research involving human DNA sequences and cell lines, and animals. It excludes cloning to create humans and cloning to create humans or embryos for research purposes."

"The American Heart Association funds meritorious research involving human adult stem cells as part of our scientific research grant program. We do not fund any research involving stem cells derived from human embryos or fetal tissue."

"The American Heart Association is refusing to join the claque demanding federal sponsorship of embryonic human stem cell experimentation, after experiencing pressure from financial backers last year over the AHA's embrace of the unethical approach.

'A flood of protest letters' followed the AHA's decision 'to spend of its own money to see whether the [embryonic stem] cells could ease heart disease,' reports Los Angeles Times staff writer Aaron Zittner. One of those letters, writes Zittner, came from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Saint Louis. 'In Missouri,' he reports, 'an entire fundraising committee resigned, dropping its plans for a gala ball. Donors who opposed abortion said they could not support the destruction of human embryos.' (Life Advocacy Briefing #8-24, June 25, 2001)

"Officially, the national board of the American Heart Association supports federal funding for the research, but the group is not lobbying Bush for it, and it declines to spend any of its $133 million annual research budget on embryo experiments." (Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2001)

"It also will continue to endorse government supported embryonic stem cell research, but with no association money or staff support." (Women's e-news, run date: 6/23/01, Heart Association Bows to Anti-Abortion Forces)


The ALA/ATS believes the moratorium on federal funding of research involving fetal tissues should be lifted and fetal tissues research should be reinstated.

The ALA/ATS expresses its support for the concept that science should be conducted ethically on the basis of scientific merit. Further, rules that apply to organ transplants involving all (infant, child, adult) donors should also apply to the use of fetal organs and tissues in research and transplantation. Currently, for the purposes of organ transplantation involving adult, child, or infant donors, the cause of death is not taken into consideration and state laws and the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act provide the same protection for a fetus as for a perspective child or adult organ donor (same as 1992).


The Association of American Medical Colleges sent a 34-page booklet on Fetal Research and Fetal Tissue Research. Nowhere in the booklet is their statement on fetal tissue.

Human Cloning: They endorse a five-year voluntary moratorium on the cloning of human beings; supports the Food and Drug Administration's decision to assert regulatory authority over human cloning; and, opposes any attempt to write legislation that would ban cloning research or technology.


The Epilepsy Foundation responded with their 1995 annual report. There is nothing in it about fetal tissue research or cloning.


Huntington's Disease Society of America supports the use of fetal tissue for research into the causes, treatment and cure of HD, under appropriate guidelines and safeguards (adopted August 1988).


JDF and diabetes researchers around the world were excited to learn late last year about the scientific discoveries where researchers were able to isolate stem cells. JDF supports this area of research…Stem cells have the potential to develop into any tissue or organ in the body, and yet cannot develop into a full human being.


Fetal tissue research has been conducted since the late 1800s and has provided most of our knowledge about development before birth. Such research uses cells and tissues that are no longer alive…Tissues obtained from spontaneously aborted fetuses (miscarriages) can occasionally be used in fetal tissue research. However, because miscarriages usually occur as a result of genetic or other disease processes, it is more common to use tissue from induced abortions for research requiring fetal tissue.

The MOD has provided funding for projects that involved research on fetal tissue throughout history.

The March of Dimes recognizes that there is ongoing ethical debate about fetal tissue research. Without trying to settle that debate, the March of Dimes concurs with current federal policy on fetal tissue research, with safeguards against abuse or incentives for abortion.

CLONING: The March of Dimes supports research with cell tissue cultures and with animals in areas of developmental and reproductive biology relevant to its mission. The Foundation has never supported, does not now support, and has no plans to support any research directed toward the cloning of humans.

The March of Dimes recognizes, respects - and shares - the profound concerns generated by the prospect of human cloning, and believes that research directed toward human cloning should be discouraged. The response to our moral concerns about human cloning should not, however, deter the progress of promising research, which could provide critical new insights into developmental biology and genetics.


MDA has never supported such research. As for the particular activities enumerated in your letter, MDA has never engaged in any of them.


To hold open the door to people with MS, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society supports the use of fetal tissue in biomedical research under the following conditions:

The establishing of a supervisory panel on ethics that would advise the Secretary of Health and Human Services on ethical implications of any biomedical research which has been recommended for funding by the professional peer review panels.

The establishing of specific criteria that would determine the circumstances under which fetal tissue might be used for therapeutic transplantation purposes and the implementing of strict controls to ensure that the criteria are adhered to.


The National Parkinson Foundations only response was "The study of toxicity directly in man is not ethical and would not be acceptable to most individuals in our society."

The following organizations did NOT respond:

American Medical Association
American Medical Women's Association
Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (formerly the American Paralysis Association)
Nat'l Assn. of State Universities
National Hemophilia Foundation
National Spinal Cord Injury Assn.
Parkinson's Disease Foundation
United Parkinson Foundation

Revised: 20 Apr 01