Fetal tissue is a unique substance that has been constructively used in medical research for at least sixty years. Cultures of fetal kidney cells were used in the 1950s to develop the polio vaccine. Today, critical studies which help unlock the structure of HIV utilize human fetal tissue. Such tissue can be used to make quantities of human growth hormone, hormones such as insulin, and anti-cancer substances. Highly promising transplant therapies using human fetal tissue hold out the possibility of cure or amelioration of such conditions as Parkinson's disease, type I diabetes mellitus, DeGeorge syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, and Huntington's disease. Because fetal cells can be grown easily in the laboratory, easily frozen for future use, and do not have a true immune system which might cause rejection, they are ideal for transplant.
It is increasingly apparent for a variety of scientific and technical reasons that this tissue, to be truly efficacious, must usually be obtained from therapeutic rather than spontaneous abortions.
There is an emerging consensus of Reform Jewish authorities that tissue obtained from either therapeutic or spontaneous abortions may be used for purposes of life-saving or life-enhancing research and treatment. Jewish requirements that we use our God-given knowledge to heal people, together with the concept of pikuach nefesh (the primary responsibility to save human life, which overrides almost all other laws) has been used by Jewish legal authorities to justify a broad range of organ transplants and medical experimentation. These requirements likewise justify the use of fetal tissue transplants.
The scientific community was distressed by the ban on Federal funding for participation in fetal tissue research imposed by the previous administration because it placed artificial and doctrinaire obstacles to life-saving research. We commend President Clinton for lifting this ban as one of his first acts as President.
However, there are continuing questions and concerns regarding abortions and the treatment of the fetus itself which raise ethical and moral issues.
THEREFORE, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:
- Support the use of fetal tissue for the purpose of life-saving or life-enhancing research and treatment with the informed consent of the donor.
- Support good faith legislation and regulations to prevent exploitation, such as a ban on the sale or purchase of fetal tissue from donors, provided that they do not conflict with our prior resolutions regarding reproductive rights.