As the University of Pittsburgh spins a web of confusion about methods by which fetal organs are obtained for research projects, the lips of their affiliated medical center are sealed despite mounting pressure on Pennsylvania’s largest non-governmental employer to start talking.
The University and their health care counterpart UPMC may have been keeping aborted babies alive to ensure an adequate blood supply from the child’s heart to other organs so they could harvest their tissue, according to records obtained by Judicial Watch. The process was described in a 2015 grant application to the National Institutes of Health.
Upon release of the records in early August, Pennsylvania House Health Committee Chair Kathy Rapp submitted a request to review state and federal funding allocated to the university and medical center. Politicians around the country are now echoing calls for an investigation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only Republican representatives and candidates have spoken out so far.
While Pitt may dismiss these concerns as partisan attacks, the university is less likely to rebuke someone from its alumni base. Retired PA Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen, a graduate of Pitt Law and a past recipient of the university’s Alumni of the Year award, has expressed “horror” over the reports from her alma mater. The potential for additional university-affiliated individuals to openly express their disgust is a reason for panic among the school’s administration.
Damage control duties have fallen squarely on the shoulders of Pitt’s communications office, as UPMC’s bloated media relations department has pleaded the fifth regarding the organization’s involvement in the taxpayer-funded practices. Strategic planning at the university is led by David Seldin, a former NARAL Pro-Choice America communications director, who insists that Pitt has no role in medical procedures or tissue collection involving aborted fetuses. This is a distinction without a difference given that the university’s three tissue banks reside within UPMC hospitals, and Pitt’s own professors execute the abortion procedures.
For instance, the doctor who both performs and oversees abortion services at the medical center’s only licensed abortion hospital, Magee Womens, also works as a professor and serves as a vice-chair on the university’s Institutional Review Board that greenlights fetal research projects. One such nod of approval was given to an NIH-funded “humanized” mouse and rat study published last September that has been so widely criticized that PolitiFact found it necessary to point out that Dr. Anthony Fauci was not directly attaching fetal scalps to rodents.
When the Pennsylvania House Health Committee held a hearing on fetal experimentation in May, Pitt sent the newly hired deputy director of research at UPMC’s Hillman Cancer Center to represent them. The move was a deliberate obstruction, as Dr. Jeremy Rich made embarrassingly clear that he had no knowledge of abortion practices and fetal research specific to the medical center and university.
An employee who is far more well-versed on these subjects is Leslie Davis, who was unanimously selected to take the reins as president and CEO of UPMC by the organization’s board of directors in July. The decision was predictable because of her thirteen-year stint directly overseeing Magee and helping to keep the abortion and research pipeline under wraps.
During Ms. Davis’ tenure as the hospital’s leader, the federally funded venture known as GUDMAP was created to assist researchers who engage in fetal experimentation. The scheme resulted in the resignation of manager Lori Kelly, who was justifiably uncomfortable with the idea of developing a menu of fetal body parts for researchers.
Ms. Davis has not publicly commented on UPMC’s abortion practices or the GUDMAP system, contradicting a recent commitment to transparency. Thankfully for her, local media outlets have looked the other way on the issue when writing glowing profiles about her accomplishments.
As long as Pitt and UPMC’s innovation-driven focus outshines ethical considerations, the pressure for answers will continue. Pulling apart the enmeshed relationship between the two organizations is a challenge in and of itself. How much longer these suspected partners in crime can continue to put up roadblocks to accountability efforts is another question.
• Ryan Navarro is a licensed therapist in private practice who previously interned and worked for UPMC. His articles have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and CNS News.