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Fetal tissue sting

By Peter Sellick - posted Friday, 24 July 2015

In July last year two men acting as representatives of a Fetal Tissue Procurement Company had lunch with Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Senior Director of Medical Services, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The "sting" operation produced three hours of conversation, published this July, that is available as an unedited transcript. This is an extended discussion about sources of fetal tissue obtained after late term abortion (up to 20 weeks) to be used for research.

The considerations discussed in the transcript take into account the following methods. There are two ways that a late term fetus (up to 20 weeks) is removed from the uterus. Firstly, a feticide, commonly digoxin, is injected into the heart so as to induce what amounts to a heart attack. This is a favored technique because it is known that the fetus is dead and thus a live abortion, that is illegal, is avoided. Those who use this method believe that removal is easier because the fetus is softer.

However, this limits the use of tissue because it will be degraded during the time between death and when it is collected that can be up to 24 hours. Thus only abortions that do not use a feticide are suitable for tissue collection. The fetus has to be killed as it emerges from the uterus by crushing with forceps. This allows for the preservation of the wanted tissue:


Buyer: Yeah. Or especially brain is where it's actually a big issue, hemispheres need to be intact, it's a big deal with neural tissue and the progenitors, because those are particularly fragile. If you've got that in the back of your mind, if you're aware of that, technically, how much of a difference can that actually make if you know kind of what's expected or what we need, versus-

PP: It makes a huge difference. I'd say a lot of people want liver. And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they'll know where they're putting their forceps. The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is the calvarium, the head is basically the biggest part. Most of the other stuff can come out intact. It's very rare to have a patient that doesn't have enough dilation to evacuate all the other parts intact.

Buyer: To bring the body cavity out intact and all that?

PP: Exactly. So then you're just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we've been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I'm not gonna crush that part, I'm going to basically crush below, I'm gonna crush above, and I'm gonna see if I can get it all intact. And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it's not vertex, because when it's vertex presentation, you never have enough dilation at the beginning of the case, unless you have real, huge amount of dilation to deliver an intact calvarium. So if you do it starting from the breech presentation, there's dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last, you can evacuate an intact calvarium at the end. So I mean there are certainly steps that can be taken to try to ensure-

Nucatola is discussing a routine and legal procedure that is carried out in hospitals all over the world. The only difference is that she is focusing on preserving the physical integrity of certain body parts for harvesting. The arguments about abortion and women's rights are liable to be abstract until the physical reality is confronted. This reality is most disturbing in late abortion (up to 28 week in South Australia) and Dr. Nucatola's descriptions are gut wrenching.

While there have been news reports that this was a money making concern, the amount of cash that changed hands for samples was trivial and was obviously charged to defray costs. While the law forbids the selling of organs this is not the major concern.

This event has been a huge boon for anti-abortionists in the US although thinly reported here in Australia.

But why should we be surprised or shocked by the discovery that fetal tissue was actively sought by medical researchers? The logic is very clear: why not use tissue that would normally be disposed of as medical waste for research? The women who agree to donating their child's tissues are given an affective reward for doing so; at least someone might benefit from their personal tragedy. They are contributing to "life saving research."

We are used to diversionary tactics in ethics. We justify treating asylum seekers like criminals by demonizing people traffickers and taking the high moral ground by declaring we are saving lives at sea through our deterrent actions. These two issues screen the real issue of helping people who find themselves in desperate circumstances because their homelands are war-torn and they have lost their homes.


Similarly, the promises of outcomes derived from medical research screen the real issues, Nucatola mentions Parkinson's and Alzheimer. This is an effective screen issue because we all have skin in the game, we all live in fear of disease and death and we trust medical research to keep us safe.

You will notice that pro-abortionists will always use the term "fetus" and never "child" they use "calvarium" instead of "skull", they use "demise" instead of death. Medical euphemisms are used to disguise reality.

We should not be surprised that children are delivered with as little damage as possible so that we can go in with scissors and scalpel to remove the heart, lungs, kidneys and limbs all on the brink of death. Is the heart still beating, do the limbs mover, do the kidneys still filter the blood? We may assume that they do because all caution is taken to preserve tissue in as close to a living condition as possible.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences.

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