Research on fetuses is pro-life. More specifically, it saves babies’ lives and prevents babies from becoming disabled.

It is a terrible contradiction. Human fetuses are obtained from women who are having abortions. Studies show that women do not choose abortions in order to assist research on fetuses. Rather, they donate the fetus after having chosen to have an abortion. Opponents of abortion who are waging war on fetal research are also at war with improvements in prenatal care that are saving lives and preventing disability today.

It is obvious that surgeons need to know anatomy in order to do surgery. The recent development of prenatal surgery comes from studies of fetuses. Lifesaving heart surgery is done on unborn fetuses to prevent them from dying of heart-valve disease. Lifesaving surgery before birth prevents nonidentical twins with different blood types from giving each other mismatched transfusions through short-circuited blood vessels. There is a condition called spina bifida in which the right and left sides of the back do not come together to cover the spinal cord. As the pregnancy progresses, fluid around the fetus damages the spinal cord and the child is born paralyzed and sometimes with brain damage from fluid building up around the brain. These beneficiaries of fetal research become children who walk and learn as they should.

There is more. Surgery before birth removes tumors. It can prevent kidney failure. These are not medical promises for “someday.” These are treatments that are available today.

In the near future, transplants of fetal tissue may prove useful to repair bones and crushed spinal cords and to ease the suffering of Parkinson’s disease and other conditions. Research on fetal cells is showing science how cells work. These cells are yielding information into intestinal inflammation, the growth of fibrous tumors and even diseases like diabetes.

It is safe to obtain fetal tissue during an abortion. I find no study showing any increased risk to women from donating a fetus to science. I cannot find one case report of a woman being injured or dying during an abortion because a fetus was collected for research during an abortion.

Miscarriages are not a substitute. After a baby dies in the womb, it often remains there for days or several weeks. Those remains are unusable for research.

Some propose that the U.S. outlaw fetal research. That thoughtless policy will simply shift fetal research and the scientists and doctors who do it to other countries. And then any woman who learns that the fetus developing within her has a condition that will cripple or kill will seek medical expertise wherever she can find the expertise to save her beloved child to be.


Dr. Steven H. Miles is a professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota.