By Dr. Sandra Penn
As a physician, I am always sad to see the continued interference with a woman’s access to the best medical care she needs, especially when she is seeking an abortion. When a woman makes the decision to have an abortion, she may also decide that she wants to help other families by donating fetal tissue for research. Now, abortion opponents are compromising a woman’s ability to help other families by trying to stop her from donating fetal tissue that contributes to lifesaving research.
Every physician takes an oath to put patient care above all else. We strive to continue learning throughout our careers in medicine, adopting new techniques and skills in order to provide our patients and their loved ones with the best care and treatment. Continued research using fetal tissue is critical to upholding the oath we take, and contributes to medical advancements and evidenced-based practice that allow us to better care for our patients.
Fetal tissue research has facilitated the development of vaccines against diseases like polio and rubella, as well as treatments for people with Parkinson's, ALS, blindness, miscarriage and babies born prematurely. Leading medical voices in the country such as the New England Journal of Medicine recognize that every person in this country has benefited from fetal tissue research. Many of our nation’s leading healthcare institutions support fetal tissue donation and recognize its importance in lifesaving research, including the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, which recently wrote a strong letter of support for fetal tissue research signed by many of the leading research institutions, universities, and medical associations in the country.
After the widely-discredited videos attacking Planned Parenthood came out last summer, abortion opponents have targeted fetal tissue donation programs and fetal tissue research. Since the release of those videos, the twelve states who launched investigations into Planned Parenthood found no violations of the law. In fact, the activists behind the secretly-recorded videos were the ones who were found to be breaking the law, and they were indicted in Texas by a grand jury after clearing Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. Why then is there a continued demand to end fetal tissue donation programs and halt lifesaving research?
It is clear that attempts to end fetal tissue donation are just another form of the harassment and stigmatization that women and families face when seeking an abortion. Those most concerned with stopping this vital research do not care that the research aids in saving premature babies’ lives or advances our understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the Zika virus, and so many other diseases. Targeting fetal tissue donation programs doesn’t advance healthcare--it’s part of a larger political strategy to further restrict a woman’s access to abortion and spread misinformation. It is critical that healthcare decisions, including the decision to donate fetal tissue, should remain with women and families, not dictated by politics.
Dr. Sandra Penn is a former teacher, retired family physician, mother of two, mother-in-law of two, and grandmother of one. She believes remaining silent in the face of injustice is to be complicit. Each of us must speak up as we can.