Fetal tissue research: an ongoing story of professionally responsible success

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Dec;213(6):819.e1-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2015.09.079. Epub 2015 Oct 23.


Therapies derived from fetal tissue research are some of the greatest success stories in medicine. Research using fetal tissue has allowed for development of vaccines for numerous diseases including polio, rubella, and measles. These vaccines have saved countless lives, improved quality of life, and decreased the need for induced abortion secondary to congenital infection. Research using cell lines derived from fetal tissue has assisted in better understanding disease pathogenesis and has served to produce human proteins as research reagents and therapies. Ongoing research points to the potential for fetal tissue to be used to cure debilitating diseases such as Parkinson disease. These scientific and medical advances are dependent on the use of fetal tissue from aborted fetuses. While the practice of induced abortion despite societal benefit may be theologically objectionable to some, these practices are professionally responsible. Federal regulations exist to discourage patients from being influenced by the societal benefit of fetal research in arriving at the decision to terminate as well as to prevent researchers from influencing a patient's decision. After a patient has chosen termination of pregnancy, it is consistent with professional responsibility to allow her to choose the disposition of the cadaveric fetal tissue. While some may view induced abortion and societal benefit from this practice as an ethical burden, the principle of justice makes it ethically obligatory to bear this ethical burden. The success story of cadaveric fetal tissue research and treatment should continue unhindered, to fulfill professional responsibility to current and future patients.

Keywords: fetal tissue; induced abortion; justice; professional responsibility; respect for autonomy; respect for women.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aborted Fetus*
  • Abortion, Induced / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Fetal Research* / ethics
  • Fetal Research* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Fetal Viability
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Pregnancy
  • United States