and Public Policy in
Fetal Tissue Transplants
John A. Robertson
Fetal tissue transplants hold great hope for many patients. Extensive work with animal models has shown that human fetal brain cells transplanted into the substantia nigra of monkeys with exogenously produced Parkinson's disease have restored their function. Physicians expect similar results in humans, to the benefit of thousands of patients. 1 Experimental evidence is also strong that fetal islet cell transplants will restore normal insulin function in diabetics. 2 And fetal thymus and liver transplants may have utility for blood and immune system disorders.
As with many issues in bioethics, careful analysis will help elucidate the normative conflict, showing both areas of agreement and irreducible conflict. An essential distinction in the fetal tissue controversy is between procuring tissue from family planning abortions and procuring tissue from abortions performed expressly to provide tissue for transplant. Although opponents of fetal tissue transplants have often conflated the two, tissue from family planning abortions may be used without implying approval of abortions to produce tissue. Indeed, with ample tissue available from family planning abortions, the latter scenario may never occur.
A second important distinction is that between retrieving tissue for transplant from dead and from live fetuses. Only the use of tissue from dead fetuses is at issue. Researchers are not proposing to maintain nonviable____________________