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The Dangers Unborn Children Face in Laboratory Science

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  Bioethics in Law & Culture                                                                                                                             Spring   2022      vol. 5  issue  2

Tara Sander Lee, Ph.D.

Senior Fellow & Director of Life Sciences

Charlotte Lozier Institute

The Humanity of Every Child

 

Modern medicine and science tell us more about the humanity of each unborn child than ever before in history. From the moment of conception, when a sperm fertilizes an egg, there is the creation of a new, totally distinct, human being (a child), biologically distinct from all other life forms in the world.[1]  The dynamics of fertilization and human development are well-established.  Indeed, most biologists (96%) agree that all human life begins at conception.[2] 

 

God designed each person to be unique and magnificent from the moment of conception.  DNA is one fundamental tool used by our creator to make human beings distinct.  DNA is in all living things and is passed on from generation to generation, passing distinct characteristics and traits to offspring.  The union of the male and female DNA during fertilization restores the complete content of DNA, in the form of chromosomes, needed to grow, mature, and function, for the rest of his or her entire life. 

 

The youngest human embryo is called a zygote, a single-celled organism at the start of his or her life’s journey.  That single cell will divide and multiple—first 2 cells, then 4 cells, then 8 cells, and so on.  By the time a human being is a fully developed adult, each person will be made up of 30-40 trillion cells that make up the tissues and organs of the entire body.[3] 

 

Very early on, during the embryonic period (from the time of conception until the end of the eighth week), almost all the body parts and organ systems form, become visible and start to function.  It is estimated that over 90% of the human body parts are formed within the first eight weeks of development.[4]  The heart is the first organ to form and starts beating just 22 days after conception (6th week gestation age).  By the end of the 6th week, the heart is beating rhythmically at 110 beats per minute.[5]  

 

From the beginning of the ninth week until birth, the developing baby is called a fetus.  Advancements in ultrasound imaging have revealed fascinating scientific facts about the unborn child.  For example, by 13 weeks after conception (15 weeks gestation), all the major organs have formed, the heart pumps 26 quarts of blood per day and has already beat approximately 16 million times.[6]  All limbs, fingers, and toes are formed and functional, and the developing child has even developed a preference for being left-handed or right-handed.  Almost the entire body responds to touch and feels pain and the fetus responds to taste.[7]

 

There is inherent dignity and value in every human being.  Each of us are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God and deserve the right to life.  Human beings at all ages before or after birth are living human beings and not a single individual is less valuable because he or she is not yet born.  A one-day-old zygote is the same little girl or boy that grows into an 8-week-old embryo, a 15-week-old fetus, an infant, a toddler, a teenager, and an adult.  The earliest stages of human development do not disqualify any individual from being a valid and valued human being.            

 

Unfortunately, in a dark corner of our nation, the humanity of the unborn is disregarded and they are considered less worthy.  Little boys and girls are being destroyed, exploited, and are only valued as commodities for research and experimentation.  Experimentation on living human embryos and the trafficking of aborted baby body parts is still happening on a large scale in this country, despite numerous ethical alternatives and serious allegations following investigational reporting (e.g., Center for Medical Progress), congressional and senate investigations, federal hearings, and in some cases, criminal and regulatory referrals to the Department of Justice.[8]

 

A recent news story exemplifies the continuation of these heinous practices.[9] Photographic images were recently taken of a freezer full of brown paper bags containing aborted human fetuses stored for research purposes at the University of Washington Birth Defects Research Laboratory. The University did not deny that aborted fetuses were in the bags and even clarified what types of fetuses were being stored for research.[10] But this story is merely the tip of the iceberg. According to a U.S. House of Representatives investigation, the University of Washington is the largest repository of aborted babies for research, including a great many recently aborted babies.[11] 

Human Fetal Tissue Research

 

So, what do researchers do with human fetal tissue? The human bodies of embryos and fetuses that die from an induced abortion are used in biomedical research for various science experiments.  The types of experiments vary, but include basic observational studies, such as analyzing the tissue, cells, and other derived materials (e.g., DNA, RNA, protein) from aborted baby body parts.  The most common application of human fetal tissue research is generating humanized mice (also known as human immune system mice) to study infection and immune response.   To conduct these research studies, baby organs (livers, lungs, eyes, hearts, brains, etc.) must be repeatedly obtained from recently aborted unborn children; that is, these are not long-stored archived tissues, but rather freshly aborted, recently living babies whose bodies and organs feed a macabre research industry. 

 

The body parts of aborted babies are purchased by researchers from tissue procurement entities. The main steps involve: (1) abortionist performs an abortion, (2) tissue procurement lab immediately dissects the aborted baby and collects body parts, (3) researchers are notified when requested numbers of desired aborted body parts are available for purchase, and (4) body parts are shipped by procurement lab to researchers for experimentation.  This entire process can take less than 24 hours to minimize tissue degradation and maximize experimental success. 

 

Fetal tissue cannot be used more than once.  So once the aborted tissue is gone, researchers must go back and purchase more body parts from new abortions.   For this reason, the practice of human fetal tissue research requires, and enables, the deliberate destruction of human life and its trafficking, repeatedly.

 

The Birth Defects Research Laboratory at the    is a good example of a “tissue procurement lab”. UW BDRL is the largest human fetal tissue repository in the United States, receiving millions of taxpayer dollars through the National Institutes of Health, and has been in business for over 50 years.[12]  They routinely procure aborted embryos and fetuses from surrounding abortion clinics and academic hospitals that perform abortions. Once the aborted baby is received at UW BDRL, the body parts are dissected, stored, and then distributed throughout the country to researchers for lab experimentation. For example, the bone marrow, spleen, liver, and thymus from 15–19-week-old aborted babies, without chromosomal abnormalities, were collected by UW BDRL and then shipped on ice via express mail across the country to Yale University in Connecticut for a study recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.[13]

 

Human Fetal Cell Lines and Vaccines

 

Human fetal tissue can be used to create fetal cell lines with a limited lifespan, as well as continuous cell lines, which are immortalized by genetic alteration. Both types of human fetal cell lines are cultured in the laboratory and used for many decades in a wide variety of applications.  The cell lines are generated by collecting a cell from an aborted baby, which is multiplied into many cells of the same kind. These cells can be grown indefinitely and further multiplied for science experiments, even after being frozen and stored for years. Fetal cell lines derived from past induced abortions are sometimes used in the development, production, and testing of vaccines. 

 

These historic fetal cell lines are not the same as fetal tissue.  Any vaccine developed or produced using these historic fetal cell lines from past abortions does not need “fresh” human fetal tissue from future abortions.  Most fetal cell lines are commercially available and are not regulated by the federal government.   However, their use in vaccine production becomes problematic for those who must choose between violating their conscience or accepting a treatment conflicted by abortion-derived materials.  Many Americans still prefer a vaccine that will not involve human fetal cell lines. 

 

 

 

 

 

Fetal cell lines have been used to grow viruses and then create inactive viruses for vaccines (I. Development and Production). Fetal cell lines have also been used to grow non-infectious pseudovirus to measure antibody binding or to perform confirmatory lab tests on vaccines.  Historical fetal cell lines (WI-38 and MRC-5) derived in the 1960’s and 1970’s were used to create vaccines for diseases such as Rubella, Hepatitis A, and rabies. These and other historical cell lines (HEK293 and PER.C6) are sometimes used today in the development, production, and testing of vaccines (see figure below and fact sheet).[14]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vaccines can be developed, produced, and tested ethically using no cells or cells from animals, insects, chicken eggs, or yeast.  In fact, most vaccines do not use fetal cell lines in vaccine production. The Charlotte Lozier Institute has been carefully monitoring the way all FDA licensed vaccines are produced.[15] 

 

By adhering to these highest ethical standards, any vaccines that do not use aborted fetal cell lines, will service all humanity, because they will value the sanctity of every human life and respect the consciences of all Americans, without exclusion or exploitation of any group within our society. 

Embryonic Stem Cells

 

Living embryonic children in the early stages of development also face many dangers in laboratory science.  Only 5 days after fertilization, a new human embryo is called a blastocyst and consists of early stem cell progenitors that can give rise to all cell types in the fully developed human body (>200 cell types that come from these earliest embryonic stem cells—such as brain cells, heart cells, blood cells). Some researchers want to attempt to harness the potential of these embryonic stem cells to discover new therapies for treatment of degenerative and autoimmune disorders. 

 

Many living human beings at the embryo stage used in experiments are conceived by artificial means (e.g., in vitro fertilization).  Excess embryos generated in fertility clinics via in vitro fertilization, that are not implanted into a woman, may be donated for research.  These “left-over” embryos are often discarded or donated to research, where they are eventually destroyed for science experiments (i.e., human embryonic stem cell research, heritable genome editing, cloning, human-animal chimeras, etc.).[16]  As a result of this troubling feature of their production, the ethics of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research has been an issue of pointed debate ever since this practice was initiated in the late 1990s.

 

A human embryonic stem (hES) cell line is a population of stem cells harvested from a human embryo.  In short, derivation of a cell line begins with destruction of the embryo, who is treated with mechanical or enzymatic methods to dissociate the cells to maintain them in culture.  The cells have a family lineage that can be traced back in a straight line to the original embryo (the being whose cells were first placed into cell culture).  The cells are considered a “cell line” when they can survive and proliferate indefinitely under defined laboratory cell culture conditions (e.g., they continue to grow and maintain their “stemness” in an undifferentiated state).  They are still totipotent “stem cells”, capable of giving rise to any cell type, but they do not yet look or act like the specialized cells of the adult and are not yet committed to becoming any particular type of adult cell.  

 

As the new embryo-derived cell line expands in culture, portions can be flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored in the freezer indefinitely to be thawed for later use by researchers (i.e., the hES cell lines available in the NIH registry).  Once in the lab, the researcher can thaw the hES cell line, bring it back into culture, and with further manipulation (i.e., special cell culture conditions), trigger the cell line to differentiate into specialized cells of the adult (i.e., heart, brain, muscle).

 

 

Human Embryo Models

 

Scientists have also discovered diverse methods for producing human beings with the specific aim of scientific experimentation.  Advanced methods of bioengineering, genetic modification, and experimental manipulation are used to produce living human organisms with biological cells and functions that naturally occur in nature.  Any human being produced using artificial means, and the cells derived from them, have the essential nature and properties of human beings and their cells conceived by natural processes.  Therefore, human beings conceived by “artificial” means are no less human than those conceived by natural processes.  Therefore, they have the same moral significance; and they require the same bioethics considerations before use for biomedical experimentation.[17]

 

Ethical Alternatives in Research and Medicine

 

The practice of human fetal tissue and embryonic research is unnecessary.  No life-saving cures have resulted from using human fetal tissue or human embryos.  There are no treatments that require fetal body parts from aborted babies or destruction of living embryonic human beings to achieve scientific and medical advancements.  Any claims to the contrary are misleading and false.[18]

For example, development of the original Polio vaccine was first produced in monkey kidney cells.[19]  While historic fetal cell lines (WI-38, MRC-5) were used for the first isolation of the Polio virus and some subsequent formulations have been used, non-fetal alternative formulations are currently available in the United States.  Most polio vaccines currently use the cell line Vero (monkey) in the manufacturing process.  In another example, the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccines can all be produced in non-fetal cell lines.[20] The Measles vaccine is produced in chicken eggs, human amnion cells from term placentas, and human kidney cultures from surgical samples. The Mumps vaccine is routinely produced using monkey cells, chick embryo fibroblasts, and embryonated chicken eggs.  Rubella was the first vaccine that used animal cell lines (1969), but later work used fetal-derived cell lines.  Fetal cell lines are still in use today in the U.S. to produce Rubella vaccine.  However, an ethically produced alternative that is just as effective is available in Japan.  Furthermore, a new successful Ebola vaccine was produced using monkey Vero cells and the new shingles vaccine is grown in CHO cells (hamster), which replaced the formulation made with human fetal cell lines.[21]

 

There are many valuable and ethical alternatives available to researchers now that do not rely on the destruction of human life or cause harm to the donor.  Induced pluripotent stem cells are a perfect example.  They can be derived from adult somatic cells (i.e., skin cells or hair follicles) and reprogrammed to mimic the basic biologic properties of human embryonic stem cells. It’s also worth pointing out that human induced pluripotent stem cells were developed during the time that President Bush introduced the ban on federal funding for research on newly derived human embryonic stem cells lines.  Human organoids, humanized mice made with ethical sources (e.g., cord blood, neonatal tissue, genes), postmortem tissues from natural death (i.e., miscarriages, stillbirths), and non-human cell lines and animal models are additional alternatives.[22]

 

Moreover, research on aborted baby body parts and embryonic stem cells has proven wasteful, ineffective, and problematic.  This is because human embryonic stem cells are inherently limited in their ability to cure diseases and disorders in children and adults, whereas ethically sourced adult stem cells have treated over 2 million patients and induced pluripotent stem cells have surpassed embryonic stem cells in basic research.[23]  Therefore, federal policies that restrict research using cell lines derived from these precious human embryos are not a hindrance to science, but instead, encourage scientific advancement within ethical boundaries to develop even better alternatives that can lead to remarkable discoveries.

 

Furthermore, scientists follow the best science, especially when there is determination to discover life-saving therapies and treatments with real-world impact.  The NIH is investing more money in ethical stem cell research.  The NIH is estimated to spend $329 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 on human embryonic stem cell research.   But ethically sourced human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) and non-embryonic human stem cell research have vastly surpassed embryonic stem cells in basic research, clinical advancements, and federal funding (nearly $1.3 billion).  The NIH is estimated to spend $88 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 on human fetal tissue research.  The vast majority (>99%) of federal funds for extramural research does not fund human fetal tissue research.  

Legislation Regarding Human Embryonic Children in Research

 

Historically, policies have been enacted to restrict embryonic stem cell research and human fetal tissue research.  In 2001, the Bush Administration enacted a policy that restricted federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research to only a few cell lines, already grown in the lab.  This was an effort to move away from research that required the destruction of embryos and to focus on ethical alternatives. Only 21 embryonic stem cell lines could be used, and they were from embryos that had been destroyed before the announcement of the President’s policy.  Federal funding was banned for research on any embryonic stem cells created after that date.

 

Then in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order which overturned the Bush research ban and allowed expansion of human embryonic stem cell research.  Under NIH Director Francis Collins, new NIH guidelines for Stem Cell Research and a new NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry were created to determine funding eligibility and to document all human embryonic cell lines approved for eligibility. To comply with the Dickey-Wicker amendment, the final regulations only allowed funding for research involving unused embryos from fertility clinics, and excluded embryos created specifically for research purposes.  At the end of the Obama presidency, there were 378 approved human embryonic stem cell lines in the NIH registry available for federal funding.  The current total of human embryonic stem cell lines available to researchers using taxpayer federal funding is 486. 

 

A summary of current legislation regarding protection of human embryos is below:

  • 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment. No federal funds can be used for the creation or destruction of a human embryo for research purposes.  Does not ban human embryos created, manipulated, destroyed using private funds and IVF donations for “research purposes”, not destined for implantation.  Does not ban federal funds for human embryonic stem cell lines in NIH registry

  • 2015 Aderholt Amendment. U.S. Congress prohibits FDA from approving any genetically edited embryo “product” created for pregnancy.

 

Current concerns are that the International Society for Stem Cell Research lifted the 14-day rule in 2021, proposing zero limits on experimentation using living human embryos.[24]  These guidelines encourage the generation of living human embryo models, genetic alteration of human embryos, human-animal chimeras gestated in a nonhuman womb, and gestation of human embryos after mitochondrial transfer (3-parent embryos).[25]

Concluding Thoughts

 

Science has unveiled the humanity of each developing child in the womb.  Every created child is a human being, and a complete member of the human species—from conception, through all stages of embryo and fetal development, up until birth.  Human embryo and fetal research that relies on ongoing human destruction blatantly disregards the humanity and dignity of the unborn as human beings.  Not only is such research unethical, but it is does not offer any life-saving cures.  Plus, there are better, more successful, alternatives available to researchers that do not rely on the deliberate destruction of human life, and these alternatives are saving lives now.  Such alternatives make human embryonic and aborted fetal-derived research unnecessary for optimal progress in biomedical research and development of novel treatments for some of the most debilitating diseases of our time.

 

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[1] The Voyage of Life, Charlotte Lozier Institute.  Available at: https://lozierinstitute.org/voyage/

[2] Media report: Steve Jacobs, “I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn’t Popular,” Quillette, https://quillette.com/2019/10/16/i-asked-thousands-of-biologists-when-life-begins-the-answer-wasnt-popular/ (accessed November 21, 2020).

[3] E. Bianconi et al., “An Estimation of the Number of Cells in the Human Body,” Annals of Human Biology 40.6 (2013): 463-71, https://doi.org/10.3109/03014460.2013.807878.

[4] R. O’Rahilly and F. Müller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd ed. (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001); and The Endowment for Human Development (EHD) (https://www.ehd.org/prenatal-summary.php#fb38, accessed January 23, 2021).

[5] The Voyage of Life, Charlotte Lozier Institute.  Available at: https://lozierinstitute.org/voyage/

[6] 15 Facts at 15 Weeks, Charlotte Lozier Institute.  Available at: https://lozierinstitute.org/15-facts-at-15-weeks/

[7] Id.

[8] Tara Sander Lee et al., “Human Fetal Tissue from Elective Abortions in Research and Medicine: Science, Ethics, and the Law,” Issues in Law and Medicine 35, no. 1 (2020): 3–61.  Available at: https://www.sba-list.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/SanderLeeetal-2020-Human-Fetal-Tissue-from-Elective-Abortions-in-Research-and-Medicine-Science-Ethics-and-the-Law-ILM-Spring2020.pdf

[9]  https://mailchi.mp/paau/for-immediate-release-activists-find-fetus-filled-freezer?e=%5BUNIQID%5D

[10] https://newsroom.uw.edu/news/uw-medicine-statement-fetal-tissue-questions

[11] Final Report, Select Investigative Panel of the Energy & Commerce Committee. US House of Representatives. December 30, 2016.  Available at: https://republicansenergycommerce.house.gov/sites/republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/files/documents/Select_Investigative_Panel_Final_Report.pdf

[12] Id.; https://lozierinstitute.org/a-policy-and-funding-evaluation-of-human-fetal-tissue-research/

[13] Chen, J. W., Schickel, J. N., Tsakiris, N., Sng, J., Arbogast, F., Bouis, D., Parisi, D., Gera, R., Boeckers, J. M., Delmotte, F. R., Veselits, M., Schuetz, C., Jacobsen, E. M., Posovszky, C., Schulz, A. S., Schwarz, K., Clark, M. R., Menard, L., & Meffre, E. (2022). Positive and negative selection shape the human naive B cell repertoire. The Journal of clinical investigation, 132(2), e150985. https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI150985.  Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8759783/pdf/jci-132-150985.pdf

[14] Fetal Cell Line Fact Sheet, Charlotte Lozier Institute.  Available at: https://lozierinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/11.02.20-Fetal-Cell-Line-Fact-Sheet-3.pdf

[15] Cell Lines Used for Viral Vaccine Production, Charlotte Lozier Institute.  Available at: Vaccines-Licensed-for-Use-in-the-United-States-by-FDA.pdf (pcdn.co), and https://lozierinstitute.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-covid-19-vaccine/

[16] Handbook of Nascent Human Beings: A Visual Aid for Understanding the Science and Experimentation, Charlotte Lozier Institute.  Available at: https://lozierinstitute.org/handbook-of-nascent-human-beings/

[17] Id.

[18] Tara Sander Lee et al., “Human Fetal Tissue from Elective Abortions in Research and Medicine: Science, Ethics, and the Law,” Issues in Law and Medicine 35, no. 1 (2020): 3–61.  Available at: https://www.sba-list.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/SanderLeeetal-2020-Human-Fetal-Tissue-from-Elective-Abortions-in-Research-and-Medicine-Science-Ethics-and-the-Law-ILM-Spring2020.pdf

[19] Salk JE, Recent Studies on Immunization against Poliomyelitis, Pediatrics 12, 471, 1953; and Salk JE et al., Formaldehyde Treatment and Safety Testing of Experimental Poliomyelitis Vaccines, Am. J. Public Health 44, 563, 1954; and Salk JE et al., Studies in Human Subjects on Active Immunization Against Poliomyelitis II. A Practical Means for Inducing and Maintaining Antibody Formation, Am. J. Public Health 44, 994, 1954; and Sabin AB, Present status of attenuated live-virus poliomyelitis vaccine, JAMA 162, 1589, 1956; https://lozierinstitute.org/history-of-fetal-tissue-research-and-transplants/#_ftn19

[21] US House Select Investigative Panel Report, 2016; Liu DX et al., Identification and expression of the human herpesvirus 6 glycoprotein H and interaction with an accessory 40K glycoprotein J. Gen. Virol. 1993;74(9):1847-1857; Macagno A et al., Isolation of human monoclonal antibodies that potently neutralize human cytomegalovirus infection by targeting different epitopes on the gH/gL/UL128-131A complex, Journal of Virology. 2010;84(2):1005-1013

[22] Tara Sander Lee et al., “Human Fetal Tissue from Elective Abortions in Research and Medicine: Science, Ethics, and the Law,” Issues in Law and Medicine 35, no. 1 (2020): 3–61.  Available at: https://www.sba-list.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/SanderLeeetal-2020-Human-Fetal-Tissue-from-Elective-Abortions-in-Research-and-Medicine-Science-Ethics-and-the-Law-ILM-Spring2020.pdf

[23] Stem Cell Research Facts.  Available at: https://stemcellresearchfacts.org/

[24] https://www.isscr.org/policy/guidelines-for-stem-cell-research-and-clinical-translation

[25] https://lozierinstitute.org/human-embryos-as-lab-rats/

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