Family Policy Matters Radio Posts

  "Family Policy Matters" Radio   Sanctity of Life

Fetal Tissue Research: An Antiquated Science


This week, NC Family president John Rustin talks with David Prentice, Ph.D., vice president and research director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, about fetal tissue research, and why he believes it is not only unethical, but also unnecessary.

“Family Policy Matters”
Transcript: Fetal Tissue Research: An Antiquated Science

INTRODUCTION: David Prentice, Ph.D., is vice president and research director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which is the research and education arm of the Susan B. Anthony List. He is also Adjunct Professor of Molecular Genetics at the John Paul II Institute at The Catholic University of America, and an Advisory Board Member for the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center.

Dr. Prentice is with us today to talk about the sale and use of fetal tissue in scientific research, which is a topic that has garnered quite a bit of attention recently, thanks to a series of undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress. These videos have exposed the practice of abortion giant, Planned Parenthood, to harvest and sell the tissue and body parts of aborted babies for fetal tissue research. And elected officials in a number of states have responded by seeking to ban the sale of aborted baby parts, which is a step our own North Carolina lawmakers took recently with the passage of House Bill 297.

But in addition to the moral problems related to harvesting and selling baby body parts, there are also scientific problems with the use of fetal tissue. Today, we’ll be talking with Dr. Prentice about the history of fetal tissue research, and why it is not sound science.

JOHN RUSTIN: Dr. Prentice, the term “fetal tissue research” can be a bit misleading because on the surface it sounds pretty innocuous. What is fetal tissue research, and what does it typically involve?

DAVID PRENTICE: When somebody uses that term, “research,” we tend to think of cures, but that’s not what’s going on with the fetal tissue, and in some cases they are using intact body parts from these aborted babies, and how do we get them, well, they’re doing abortion, they’re doing in some cases a late-term abortion. There’s the suggestion that they might even be altering the abortion technique in some cases to try and get, shall we say, more intact organs and tissue. In a couple of the videos, it was chilling to listen to the doctor talk about crushing above and below to try and get certain organs, or to use a “less crunchy technique.” Now, your skin ought to crawl when you start hearing those terms, but what they’re after are organs and tissues from the heart, liver, or even brain from these unborn children.

JOHN RUSTIN: Share with us a little bit about the history of fetal tissue research in the United States. How long has it been utilized in the scientific community?

DAVID PRENTICE: It’s interesting. There’s a fairly long history of people attempting to use fetal tissue for experiments. In fact, in the U.S. that started back in the 1930’s, and even before that in a couple of other countries, In the 1920’s, in the U.K., for example. What they were first attempting to do was to transplant this young tissue, in a sense, to try to rejuvenate or treat certain conditions, and so someone who had diabetes, someone who had Parkinson’s disease, they would try to transplant this younger tissue into the patient’s body. It really was not very successful, and they don’t even frankly talk about transplanting fetal tissue anymore because it was so abysmally unsuccessful.

JOHN RUSTIN: One thing that has come to light in the Center for Medical Progress investigation is the exaggerated claims about fetal tissue research that are contained in the consent forms that Planned Parenthood provides to women who are considering abortion. These forms claim that fetal tissue has been used to treat and actually cure a variety of diseases and conditions. Isn’t this information misleading to the women who are receiving these forms from Planned Parenthood?

DAVID PRENTICE: It’s terribly misleading and a lie. Let’s think what’s going on: you have a vulnerable women coming in who has decided that maybe she should have an abortion. She has already perhaps given consent to go through the procedure, and then she’s presented with a form that says that fetal tissue from abortion has been used to treat find a cure for diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and AIDS. Well, what’s she going to think? That some good can come from this. But I’m sure all your listeners recognize none of these diseases have been cured, and they certainly haven’t been cured with fetal tissue, so it’s extremely misleading, and probably where they may be a violation of federal statute, to try and mislead and not give true informed consent.

JOHN RUSTIN: And one of the other areas of misleading information that has been put forth is that we need to harvest the body parts of aborted babies to use for tissue transplantation. What kind of success have we seen with the use of fetal tissue in this area?

DAVID PRENTICE: It’s been pretty meager, and you could almost say zero. There have been may be one or two patients who, according to some reports, have been improved, but [not with] most of the transplants. In fact, our own National Institutes of Health no longer funds clinical trials doing transplants with fetal tissue. And that was after a couple of large studies were done and reported in 2001 and 2003. The results [from those studies] made the New York Times, and the doctors themselves were describing patients who they’d attempted to treat for Parkinson’s [with fetal tissue] writhing, wriggling uncontrollably, unable to stop their shaking, and the doctors themselves called it horrific.

JOHN RUSTIN: Dr. Prentice, proponents of fetal tissue research also argue that fetal tissue is important for the development of vaccines. Now we’ve heard a lot about this, but talk about that a little if you would for our listeners.

DAVID PRENTICE: In terms of vaccine, there’s another very misleading piece of information. Now, there is a small raisin in this big pudding that’s true, and that’s back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, fetal tissue and fetal cell lines were used initially to grow viruses, including the Poliovirus. Now, it doesn’t mean that the Polio vaccine relied on fetal tissue. And the point of fact here is they don’t use fetal tissue anymore to make the polio vaccine, or most vaccines. In fact, there’s a report out a couple of months ago, a successful test of an Ebola vaccine, they actually field-tested it in Africa. Patients didn’t get Ebola after this vaccine. And they didn’t use any fetal tissue in it; they used monkey cells. And there are simply better ways to make vaccines now, none of which rely on fetal tissue.

JOHN RUSTIN: Talk more about that, if you would. Not only with vaccines but also in other areas of research, I know that you’ve argued that there are viable and ethical alternatives to research using fetal tissue. Tell us about those alternatives. 

DAVID PRENTICE: There are viable and even better alternatives, certainly ethical, to using fetal tissue or fetal cells. Adult stem cells are one of the first things that should come to everybody’s mind. Fetal tissue, again, in terms of transplants and treatments and so on, pretty much zero in the way of success. Adult stem cells, like bone marrow, umbilical cord blood stem cells, over one million people have been treated with adult stem cells. And that’s for dozens of different conditions, including some of those that were listed on that misleading consent form. And there’s a growing number of people and conditions, where they are using these successful alternatives. So there are ample alternatives even in terms of basic research, but you don’t need to go down the fetal tissue route.

JOHN RUSTIN: If these better alternatives exist, then why do you believe there is such a demand among some for the tissue and body parts of aborted babies in the scientific community? Why do we see this abhorrent practice taking place?

DAVID PRENTICE: It’s really puzzling because what it really looks like is there are some scientists who are stuck in an old fashioned, antiquated mode of research. Again, back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, fetal tissue was about the only thing that people could grow in the lab, and they had these fetal cell-lines that have been used in the past to make vaccines. And I think there are a lot of people still stuck back there in this antiquated science, whereas the modern progressive science has moved well past that. So, I think it’s just a matter of kind of coming in with a modern world in terms of scientific research.

JOHN RUSTIN: I heard you recently on a National Public Radio program, along with a number of other panelists who were scientists in this area, talking about it, and the response from the scientists who were supporting fetal tissue research was, “Well, there’s all this promise.” But the evidence just doesn’t show that there is the likelihood that we’re going to see progress made, when we have specifically seen progress made in areas of scientific research that uses ethical and better methods that you’ve talked about. I found that very enlightening, and I think your presentation of those facts was very helpful to really shine a light of truth on this issue, particularly in that interview, which I’m sure is not always the most friendly environment for someone that shares our beliefs.

DAVID PRENTICE: Yes, but it’s important for people to stand up for the truth, to stand up for life, and get these facts out there. And I would encourage your listeners, take a couple of these little kernels of truth, and keep passing them on because that’s what we need to do. There are people who still don’t even realize that Planned Parenthood does abortion, and we’ve got to get the real facts out there that they are doing these abhorrent procedures, ending young lives, one third of a million young lives a year, and trafficking in these baby parts for research, for experiments actually, like science fair experiments that are not going to benefit anybody, especially because we have better, more modern, and successful techniques that we should be doing.

JOHN RUSTIN: I want to echo that for our listeners we definitely encourage them to educate themselves, to better understand these issues, and then share the truth with neighbors, family, friends, elected officials and others who may be making decisions regarding this, as the state legislature did just recently in North Carolina in banning the sale of baby body parts. Dr. Prentice, before we close I do want to ask you one final question. Do you believe that fetal tissue research should be banned altogether in the United States, or what do you think needs to happen at the federal level as well as at the state level to help put an end to the harvesting and sale of baby body parts?

DAVID PRENTICE: I really do feel that that antiquated and unethical research should end. It relies on the targeted death of young human beings. This just should not be happening, and even if only for that reason that we shouldn’t be promoting a culture of death. But beyond that, as we’ve been discussing, there’s so many other better and non-controversial ways to move science and medicine forward. We really ought to be thinking about what is going to be the most successful, as well as the most ethical way to bring medicine to patients.

JOHN RUSTIN: No doubt about that. Dr. Prentice, where can our listeners go to learn more about The Charlotte Lozier Institute and your great research and insight into fetal tissue research?

DAVID PRENTICE: Our website is And we have a lot of posts up there. Like, there are over 13,000 community health centers that do everything and more than Planned Parenthood does, but without doing abortion. And you can look on our website and find these maps and find some of these close to you, close to your friends who might need some comprehensive health care. So, I’d encourage your listeners to go to our website,, and look over this information.

JOHN RUSTIN: Excellent. And with that, Dr. Prentice, I want to thank you so much for sharing your insights on fetal tissue research with us, and for your excellent work at The Charlotte Lozier Institute.

– END –


Receive Our Legislative Alerts