Fetal Tissue Research
MICHELLE A. MULLEN
The use of electively aborted human fetal tissue in research and therapy such as transplantation raises tempting clinical possibilities and a variety of social, ethical, and legal issues. Much of the debate over the technologies has been generated by antiabortionists who view them as complicit with abortion and hence morally repugnant. Advocates of fetal tissue research and therapy include scientists, clinicians, and patient populations that may benefit from the use of human fetal tissues. Recent research indicates that the practices may raise important feminist issues in respect of the medical management of women considering abortion, consent to donation of fetal tissues, and the potential for competition between a perceived need for fetal tissues and the availability of new, earlier abortion methods such as the abortifacient pill (RU-486).
When compared with other sources of human tissue for research and transplantation, human fetal tissues exhibit distinct biological characteristics, including an enormous capacity for growth and functional differentiation. They are also highly resistant to oxygen deprivation and easy to transplant, usually as a suspension of cells injected into the target organ. Finally, immature fetal cells provoke little or no immune response in the host. This is extremely important, since graft rejection is the biggest obstacle to