The Biden administration has lifted the Trump-era restrictions on the use of fetal tissue in research, giving scientists the ability to use the material when researching diseases and potential treatments.
The National Institutes of Health, housed within Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services, has also rescinded the ban on using federal dollars to buy fetal tissue for research conducted by government employees.
The rules under the Trump administration required researchers seeking federal grants for fetal tissue-related studies “to undergo an extra layer of review by an ethics advisory board,” according to the Washington Post. It took the Trump administration roughly a year to even create the board, and it convened only once, over the summer, before disbanding. Unsurprisingly, it was overwhelmingly comprised of abortion opponents, and its members rejected 13 out of the 14 applications it reviewed.
Notably, Trump’s stance on fetal tissue research blocked a senior immunologist at the National Institutes of Health from conducting experiments related to what was at that time—March 2020—the “new” coronavirus. “When I hear the vice president saying [they’re] doing everything they can to find vaccines [and treatments], I know that is not true,” one scientist “familiar with the situation” at NIH told the Post. “Anything we do at this point could save hundreds of thousands of lives. If you wait, it’s too late.”
Of course the Trump White House’s supposed moral opposition to fetal tissue research didn’t prevent Trump from happily receiving a dose of REGN-COV2 when he was hospitalized for covid, a drug that was developed through the research method.
The Biden administration hasn’t made any public statement about reversing the Trump-era policies as of this writing, likely because fetal tissue research still remains frustratingly controversial despite the fact that its been common practice since the 1930s, and has been used develop the polio vaccine, and study treatments for HIV and cancer. (And the NIH has funded the research since the 1950s.) But like so much else based in science and evidence, fetal tissue research has been coopted as a lightning rod by anti-abortion activists, and used as another way to manipulate people’s feelings about abortion.
I’m of the very controversial opinion that it’s nice to have life-saving vaccines and treatments. I can only hope that whoever happens to be in office for the next pandemic agrees.