Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The grey market for fetal tissue (it can't be sold for a profit, but profits can be made on processing)

There has been recent attention to fetal stem cells, which are used in research into a number of diseases.
The NY Times has the story:
Fetal Tissue From Abortions for Research Is Traded in a Gray Zone

"Videos released by an anti-abortion group during the last two weeks have drawn attention to a little-known practice: the buying, selling and research use of fetal tissue acquired from abortion clinics.

"The group behind the tapes accuses Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue for profit — which is illegal and which Planned Parenthood denies doing. House Republicans plan to investigate. This may be just one more battle in the nation’s long war over abortion, but the dispute has raised questions about who the buyers and sellers are, what fetal tissue is used for and what the law allows.
"Companies that obtain the tissue from clinics and sell it to laboratories exist in a gray zone, legally. Federal law says they cannot profit from the tissue itself, but the law does not specify how much they can charge for processing and shipping.

"The National Institutes of Health spent $76 million on research using fetal tissue in 2014 with grants to more than 50 universities, including Columbia, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Yale and the University of California in Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. It expects to spend the same amount in 2015 and 2016.
"Fetal tissue can be used only with the consent of the woman having an abortion. Some researchers receive the tissue from abortion clinics at their own institutions, or from tissue banks maintained by some universities. Many buy the tissue from companies that act as middlemen. Those companies pay small fees, usually $100 or less a specimen, to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, who say they charge only what they need to cover their expenses. The companies then process the tissue and sell it to researchers for higher prices that reflect the processing.

"The fees, which can run to thousands of dollars for a tiny vial of cells, do not break the law, according to Arthur Caplan, the director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

“It appears to be legal, no matter how much you charge,” Dr. Caplan said, adding that there appears to be little or no oversight of the processing fees. “It’s a very gray and musty area as to what you can charge.”

"Many researchers buy tissue from two small California companies. StemExpress, a five-year-old business based in Placerville, Calif., describes itself as “the largest provider of maternal blood and fetal tissue globally.” It also says it offers “special discounts to the academic community.”
"George J. Annas, a law professor and bioethicist at Boston University, said, “What’s going on now is probably legal, but Congress won’t like it.”

"Regarding the companies, Mr. Annas said: “They won’t be real happy that this is all out in the public. This threatens their business. Even if what they’re doing is legal, the law can easily be changed.”

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