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Society's Choices: Social and Ethical Decision Making in Biomedicine
In the summer of 1988, the 21-member Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research Panel was appointed. Nominations were submitted by members of Congress and the executive branch, and by other interested parties; categories for nominations included ethicists, lawyers, biomedical researchers, physicians, public policy experts, and clergy. The panel selection process was closely watched by outsiders on both sides of the abortion debate. Retired federal judge Arlin Adams, appointed as chairman of the panel by an internal NIH committee, was a Republican who was opposed to abortion.
When the panel met for the first time in September 1988, it was asked to respond to ten questions pertaining to the ethical implications of fetal tissue transplantation research. Concerns about the source of the tissue to be used in such research-elective abortions-figured heavily in these questions. For example:
Is it morally relevant whether the source of tissue is from an induced or spontaneous abortion?
Does the use of the fetal tissue in research encourage women to have an abortion that they might not otherwise undertake?
Should there be and could there be a prohibition on the donation of fetal tissue between family members, or friends and acquaintances? (NIH, 1988).
In the course of this three-day meeting it became apparent that a single meeting did not allow sufficient time to address such complex and controversial issues. The panel had also intended to meet in executive session, but amidst vigorous public outcry it was decided that panel deliberations would be open to the public. At the September meeting, the panel heard from more than 50 invited speakers, as well as from representatives of various interest groups. The panel held a second meeting in October and a third in December, at which it prepared its final report to the assistant secretary. Volume 1 contained responses to the ten questions, along with panel members' votes on each question; a summary of the current scientific literature relevant to human fetal tissues transplantation research; three concurring statements; two dissenting statements; and a final dissenting letter. Volume 2 of the report contained text of the testimony submitted to the panel.
The majority of panel members (17 out of 21) voted in favor of permitting fetal tissue transplantation research, provided that a woman's decision to abort be kept carefully separated from research. The panel's report was unanimously approved by the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director, which urged acceptance of its recommendations, including the lifting of the moratorium on federal funding of fetal tissue transplantation research utilizing tissue from induced abortions, and the development of additional