fetal tissue transplants





Is the transplantation of nueral tissue considered an
ethical procedure?
The transplantation of human fetal neural tissue into
the brains of humans suffering from progressive
neurodegenerative disorders is one of the hottest arguments
currently being debated. Fetal neural tissue is being used
as a possible treatment for some diseases. The treatment
and possible cure for many of these diseases falls upon the
successful transplantation of fetal neural tissue from the
brain, spinal chord and peripheral nervous system. Some of
the possible beneficiaries of these transplants would be
those with Parkinson\'s disease, a common neurodegenerative
disorder of the nervous system.
Fetal tissue transplantation involves injecting fetal
tissue obtained through electively aborted fetuses into
another human being. Because fetal tissue deemed most
appropriate and acceptable for transplantation is primarily
obtained from elective abortion procedures, many concerns
have arisen in the public, political, and scientific
communities. It is because of their unique characteristics
that fetal cells are far more ideal for use in tissue
transplantation than tissue derived from an adult donor.
Fetal tissue grows much faster than tissue obtained from an
adult donor, a few fetal cells from a donor have the
potential of replacing a large number of host cells.
Fetal tissue transplantation is a relatively new
procedure that has a rather large history behind it. The
first attempts to transplant human fetal tissue into patients
took place in the 1920\'s. The first major success using
fetal tissue to treat a medical condition was in the 1950\'s
when a vaccine for polio was developed. There was relatively
little public concern about the use of fetal tissue until the
late 1980\'s when the procedure of fetal tissue
transplantation became known.
In 1988, researchers in New Mexico reported in The
New England Journal of Medicine their results of human fetal
neural tissue into the brains of patients suffering from
Parkinson\'s disease. This case later became well known as
the La Roza case. In their report on a transplantation of
fetal tissue substantia nigra, the tissue was transplanted in
the caudate nucleus of a fifty-year old male with a nine year
history with Parkinson\'s disease. Prior to the
transplantation procedure, he was suffering from severe
symptoms associated with the latter stages of the Parkinson\'s
disease, particularly severe muscle rigidity and tremor.
Three months after the transplant there was considerable
improvement in his tormenting symptoms. As a result of the
procedure, his ridgedness and tremors decreased noticeably.
Also, the patient was able to control his remaining symptoms
with a much lower dosage of medication then before.
In response to the apparent success of the La Roza
transplants and initial hints of a possible breakthrough cure
for Parkinson\'s disease, US medical scientists had decided to
join the race to cure this terribly debilitating ailment
through fetal neuro-tissue transplants. They realized,
however, that any truly legitimate effort would require
federal funding. It was the request from the National
Institute of Health (NIH) for funding for human fetal tissue
transplantation research that ignited intense researches into
the procedure of fetal tissue transplantation in the United
States.
With this tremendous breakthrough in biomedical science
that may someday relieve the suffering of millions of people
with various neurological inflections came great controversy.
Intense moral and ethical debates surround the use of fetal
tissue for research and transplantation procedures. Debates
began soon after the United State Supreme Court legalized
abortion in Roe v. Wade and continues to this day with debate
in congress concerning the passage of the Morris K. Udall
Bill, which upon passage will provide one-hundred million
dollars a year for Parkinson\'s disease research.
In March 1988, Robert Windom, a strong Right to Life
supporter, rejected the NIH\'s funding request and issued a
moratorium on federal funding for research on fetal tissue
obtained through induced abortions. This effectively stopped
all research on fetal tissue in federally funded
laboratories. Even though the moratorium only applied to
federal funding, in reality it stopped all legitimate
research involving fetal tissue because of the enormous costs
associated with a single operation easily exceeding $50,000.
Private researchers were discouraged and unwilling to take a
chance on such expensive experiments without the likelihood
of being reimbursed for their time and expense. In support of
the moratorium, President Bush stated that the ban was not an
absolute ban on fetal tissue research, nor was it banning
federal funding of all types of fetal tissue research. He
reiterated that the moratorium was only applicable to federal
funding of fetal tissue research obtained from induced
abortions. Federal funding could still be obtained for
research using tissue from spontaneous abortions
(miscarriages), ectopic pregnancies and stillbirths. In
conclusion, President Bush stated that the Nation\'s best
interest would not be served through granting federal funds
for research that was "promoting and legitimizing abortion"
and which is deemed "morally