primarily one of whether fetal tissue transplantation was a potentially valuable therapy for living adults, or whether restrictions on this research via federal funding moratoria constituted an untoward invasion into the pursuit of scientific reason. Rather, the issue was one of pure politics and appearances. To the extent that fetal tissue research offended the sensibilities of abortion opponents, it could legitimately be discouraged. Efforts by panel members such as John Robertson or Leroy Walters to analyze why social legitimation of abortion does not follow from use of fetal tissue (just as social legitimation of homicide or drunk driving does not follow from use of cadaveric tissue) were futile because they were directed at the merits rather than the emotional content of the social legitimation argument.
By November 1989, newspapers were reporting that the scientific community had reached an impasse with the administration and its willingness to let political concerns over the abortion issue block promising research and promising therapies. A sample:
Frustration has been building among medical researchers for the last year, according to several interviewed this week. They said the seemingly irreconcilable split over abortion has created a climate in which one bioethical issue after another has become politically too hot to handle-or even discuss.
Concern rose to a new pitch last week when the secretary of health and human services, Louis W. Sullivan, extended a ban on research using transplants of tissue from aborted fetuses. Sullivan ignored the advice of a special federal panel that had concluded that the research could help millions of afflicted people and would not increase the number of abortions.
"In effect, this is a suppression of legitimate science at the federal level," said John Fletcher, a bioethicist at the University of Virginia. "When political considerations dominate science, it concerns me very, very deeply."34
The failure of the federal commission to reach an effective consensus led to a series of private efforts by medical societies, whose members specialized in therapies hampered by the absence of good fetal research, to rally public support through self-regulation of fetal tissue research. For example, a report titled "Medical Applications of Fetal Tissue Transplants" was issued by the American Medical Association in June 1989, calling for the use of fetal tissue grafts. Under guidelines approved by the AMA panel, the use of fetal tissue for transplantation was considered ethically permissible when it is not provided for profit and when the recipient is not designated by the donor. A woman's decision to have an abortion should be made before any discussion of the transplantation use of the fetal tissue is initiated, according to the report, and doctors who participate in the abortion should not receive any benefit from the transplantation of the tissue.35