Morally Tainted: Products Made Possible by the Killing of Innocent Human Life

Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill to the Oklahoma Legislature that has caused quite a stir. S.B. 1418 says it would ban any product for human “consumption” that contains aborted human fetal tissue or where the research or development of any of the ingredients required the use of aborted fetal tissue.

Now, currently, there are no aborted fetuses in any food products. But some pundits interpret “consumption” in this bill to mean not just food products, but any product humans “consume,” like drugs, vaccines, treatments or even beauty products.

In the national response to S.B. 1418, the jokes about Soylent Green abound, and those from all political persuasions mocked Shortey as an idiot with nothing better to do than invent problems and waste taxpayer money. 

When Shortey suggested that his bill was not simply about aborted fetuses in the food supply, but about companies using cells and tissues from aborted human beings to test or develop various chemicals, drugs or therapies, one angry commenter on the Huffington Post retorted, “What companies? Name them. If you can’t, then this is the rantings of a paranoid delusional.”

Well ...

There is Neuralstem, a Maryland company, which, according to a Bloomberg press release, has a stem-cell line that came from “fetal tissue donated by a woman who underwent an elective abortion at 8 weeks.”  In 2010, Neuralstem announced that it injected these stem cells from an aborted fetus directly into the spinal cord of a man with amyotrophic lateral sclerosi (ALS), which is better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

A few weeks ago, Neuralstem announced it discovered a possible new drug to treat depression.  It tested several compounds using its stem-cell line to see which chemical showed promise in increasing the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is shrunken in those who suffer from depression. Neuralstem did not disclose if the stem-cell line it used to develop this new drug came from an electively aborted fetus. But in academic publications listed on its website, the stem cells are described as “fetal.” The Food and Drug Administration has given Neuralstem the go-ahead to test the new drug in depressed patients.

There is also ReNeuron, an English company that has applied for clinical trials in the United States. ReNeuron wants to use stem cells from aborted fetuses to treat stroke victims. In an interview with Innovaro Pharmalicensing, the managing director of ReNeuron explained where the company gets its stem cells. He said, “We access human fetal-brain material from terminated pregnancies. They’re typically about 8-to-10-week fetuses.”

There is also Neocutis, a San Francisco company, which is selling cosmetic and dermatological products that have come from aborted fetal tissue. Neocutis openly admits that its PSP (Processed Skin Cell Proteins) products are derived from the cells of an electively aborted fetus. These PSP products are being marketed to treat “around-the-eye wrinkles and puffiness, to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and provide long-lasting hydration for luminous skin.”

Then there are the vaccine makers like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline. Cell lines MRC-5 and WI-38 are common cell lines used by these companies to produce vaccines for rubella, polio, hepatitis A and chicken pox. MRC-5 was developed from lung cells from a 14-week-old male fetus that was electively aborted in 1966. The WI-38 line was derived from a female fetus that was aborted in 1964.

And there is Senomyx, the San Diego company that likely set Sen. Shortey in motion. Senomyx uses the cell line HEK 293 to test chemicals as possible flavor enhancers. Cell line HEK 293 was derived from the kidney tissue of a boy aborted in the 1970s. HEK stands for “Human Embryonic Kidney.” The HEK 293 line was subsequently genetically engineered with viral DNA and is now available for sale from a common chemical-supply company called SigmaAldrich. Senomyx is reported to have contracts with giants like PepsiCo, Kraft and Nestle to test flavor enhancers for their products.

It seems Shortey may not be as delusional or paranoid as some believe.

Now, many would argue that is it morally acceptable to use these cells originally procured from elective abortion because the embryo or fetus was going to die anyway. Why not use their cells to advance technology and make our lives better?

Catholics reject this argument. If an organism must be intentionally killed to harvest cells, then the cells are morally tainted. If these cells had come from a natural miscarriage, then it would be morally permissible for parents to donate them to research.

The morality of fetal-cell use is analogous to that of organ donation. If the patient died of natural causes or a traumatic event, then it is morally permissible to use his organs for the benefit of others. It is not morally permissible to intentionally and prematurely end a person’s life and then take his organs for donation. Using cells or tissue from aborted fetuses is analogous to using organs from death-row inmates or victims of euthanasia.

All of these companies had the choice to use tissue donated from a miscarriage or other cells not derived from an elective abortion. Instead, they chose to morally taint their products and discoveries by using cells from the intentional ending of an innocent human life.

Yet, some of these products, like drugs or vaccines, can be life-saving. The question then becomes: Can Catholics use these life-saving products that were developed using aborted fetal tissue in good conscience? 

Many of them, like the vaccines for rubella and polio, are developed or produced in cell lines that came from abortions that occurred decades ago, and no new abortions or destruction of life are required to produce those vaccines.

The guidance given by the Church on the use of vaccines may be the best guide for other life-saving products as well. In the case of vaccines produced in aborted fetal-stem cell lines like MRC-5 and WI-38, where the abortion occurred decades ago, parents must ask their health-care provider for an alternative vaccine that was grown in cells not procured by illicit means. If there are no alternatives, then they must voice their objection. Bishop Robert Vasa wrote the following on the use of vaccines to prevent disease:

“Thus my reading of [Dignitas Personae] inclines me to conclude that parents may use these vaccines derived from cell lines of illicit origin, but they should inquire about the availability of a more ethical alternative; and they must make their objections known to the physician, to the health-care system and to the FDA. Clearly, the use of these vaccines, while morally permissible, is not entirely morally neutral.”

In reality, if everyone did this, then one of two things would happen: The pharmaceutical companies would stop making the vaccine, or they would begin to look seriously for alternatives that are not tied to abortion. Without our protest, however, these companies have no incentive to change their ways. They will continue to do evil that good may come from it; we will continue to receive the “good” they produce, and we will thus give moral and financial support to their heinous practices.

But for Catholics to object to any product, life-saving or otherwise, developed using aborted fetal tissue, first we must know about it. Unlike Neocutis, many companies that use these cell lines are not so upfront about where they get their “raw materials.”

This is the future: well-meaning pro-lifers using drugs and other medical breakthroughs or food and beauty products with no knowledge of the unethical practices that brought them to market. 

This is another disastrous legacy of Roe v. Wade.  A fetus is now considered no more than just tissue, and, therefore, companies do not feel obligated to let consumers know that their product was made possible by ripping a fetus from a mother’s womb — a fact that would matter greatly to a great many people. If only we knew about it.

Full disclosure is needed. The health conscious are crying for labels identifying genetically modified food. Animal-rights activists successfully lobbied companies for labels and disclaimers that products are not tested on animals. 

It is time Catholics and pro-lifers demand disclosure for any drug, treatment, vaccine, food or any other product that has used cells from an elective abortion in its development or production. And then we need to object and demand companies use alternatives.

Without our loud and continuous pressure, the use of aborted fetal tissue to bring products to market will not only continue, it will expand.

We live in a culture of death — a reality that means we truly do need labels that warn consumers: “This product was made possible by the killing of innocent human life.”

Rebecca Taylor is a clinical

laboratory specialist

in molecular biology.

She writes about bioethics on her blog Mary Meets Dolly


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