- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives produced documents at its first hearing Wednesday showing that technicians at an abortion clinic were paid extra for the number of fetal body parts they obtained.

Rep. Sean T. Duffy, Wisconsin Republican, pointed to a compensation schedule showing that technicians were paid $35 per specimen up to 10 specimens and $45 per specimen thereafter, in addition to their salaries. The name of the clinic was redacted.

He also cited another exhibit showing what he called a “wish list” from a tissue procurement business to a clinic technician that included items for purchase such as “liver, thymus, skin.”

“So we see the technician gets paid per specimen, and the more specimens you provide, the more money you make. And as a side note, I thought that there was no profit motive here,” Mr. Duffy said, alluding to Planned Parenthood’s defense of the legality of its fetal parts harvesting.

What’s more, he said, the same technicians were responsible for obtaining the mother’s consent for donating the fetal tissue, even though the financial connection was not disclosed on the consent form.

“Does that concern you — we have the technician who’s receiving a shopping list from the business, and that’s also the person who’s going to go in and obtain consent from the mom?” asked Mr. Duffy.

Dr. Kevin Donovan, senior clinical scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, said, “This would never pass muster for an [institutional review board].”

Paige Comstock Cunningham, executive director at the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, said, “It has ethical problems.”

The four-hour hearing was predictably contentious, with House Democrats blasting Republicans for issuing subpoenas and requests for information to 32 abortion clinics and research facilities, including the names of doctors, researchers and medical students involved with either procuring or using fetal tissue for research.

Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat and the panel’s ranking member, took Republicans to task for what she described as a “partisan and dangerous witch hunt.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, moved unsuccessfully to quash the subpoenas.

“There is no apparent reason for this other than harassment and intimidation,” said Ms. Schakowsky. “Republicans may not like the fact abortion is legal and therefore safe for women in this country, but that is no excuse for putting students, researchers, women and their doctors at risk.”

Democrats also insisted that the hearing was unnecessary and argued that the pro-life Center for Medical Progress’ investigation into Planned Parenthood’s involvement in fetal tissue sales has been discredited.

Two investigators, David Daleiden and Susan Merritt, were indicted on charges stemming from the probe last month in Harris County, Texas, although both have pleaded not guilty.

Republicans have countered that the select panel’s focus isn’t on Planned Parenthood, noting that no subpoenas and requests for information have been issued so far to any Planned Parenthood affiliate, but rather the broader issue of fetal tissue research.

At the hearing, witnesses agreed that there are no ethical issues arising from research using fetal tissue obtained from, for example, ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages, but pro-life ethicists said that is not the case with induced abortions.

Ms. Cunningham said there is “no effective oversight” to ensure compliance with the federal ban on altering an abortion procedure to harvest fetal tissue, given that most abortions are performed in clinics that “are not subject to established institutional oversight and accreditation requirements that exist in hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.”

Consent forms produced by the investigation show that pregnant women are not told which tissue and organs will be used for research, which is not the case with donations of adult body parts, said Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican and a physician.

Several witnesses argued that federal law placing responsibility on the woman seeking an abortion to make the decision about whether to donate the fetal remains for research is inconsistent with protocols governing other tissue donations.

“The choice to have the child killed — even if done in confusion and mitigated responsibility — is incompatible with a willingness to act in the true interests of the child,” said Patrick Lee, a bioethics professor at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

R. Alta Charo, professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said the 1988 National Institutes of Health panel wrestled with the issue and determined that the mother is the logical donor.

Ms. Charo, who published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine last year arguing that “we have a duty to use fetal tissue for research and therapy,” stressed the benefits of fetal tissue donations in research in developing, for example, vaccinations.

“I can only say, again and again, the number of abortions in the United States will be unaffected by the outcome of this discussion about whether to use the remains for research,” Ms. Charo said. “The only thing we know is that we will lose benefit of the research for people who get sick.”

Other witnesses disputed the necessity of using aborted fetal tissue for research, saying alternatives are increasingly available.

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, argued that the benefits of fetal tissue in research are overstated. He said the polio vaccine and newly developed Ebola vaccine were developed in monkey tissue, and cited a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that “no new fetal tissue is needed to produce cell lines to make these vaccinations now or in the future.”

Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, announced, “I feel like a time traveler, not a member of Congress.

“Perhaps we have been transported back to 1692 in the Salem witch trials, where fanatics persecuted and murdered innocent people who had committed no offenses,” she said. “Unfortunately, this time those being burned at the stakes are our scientists who hold future medical breakthroughs in their hands.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, drew another historical comparison: the Tuskegee syphilis studies, in which researchers looked at the effects of syphilis on black men without telling them they had the disease or treating them.

“Last summer’s videos revealed that something very troubling is going on related to fetal tissue and research,” Ms. Blackburn said. “The weak, vulnerable, those with no voice — harvested and sold. There is something going on and something worth investigating.”

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