Attorney General Keith Ellison said a federal ban on using aborted fetal tissue for research is “hampering” the nation’s ability to respond to COVID-19 in a letter sent to the Trump administration.
The letter, which was sent in late March, was signed by the attorneys general of 15 states, a coalition led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
“We write to you out of concern that the current Fetal Tissue Ban that took effect in June 2019 is hampering our Nation’s ability to address COVID-19,” states the letter.
“Scientists at the National Institutes of Health working on potential therapies for COVID-19 have been appealing to this administration for permission to work with fetal tissue, arguing that this pandemic warrants an exemption to your Ban. We urge you to grant their request and end the Ban.”
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced in June 2019 that scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would no longer be allowed to conduct research “involving the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions.”
“Intramural research that requires new acquisition of fetal tissue from elective abortions will not be conducted,” HHS said.
The U.S. House voted a week later to overturn the ban, but the proposal was dead-on-arrival in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.
According to Ellison and his cosigners, allowing the country’s scientists to use aborted fetal tissue “can help accelerate vaccine development to combat COVID-19.”
“Research using fetal tissue has led to the development of other vaccines to combat diseases like poliovirus, rubella, measles, and rabies. Fetal tissue has also been an essential tool in studies geared towards finding treatments and cures for some of the most debilitating diseases, including HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s,” the letter continues.
A group of House Democrats sent a similar letter to the Trump administration earlier this month and urged Secretary Azar to “prioritize science.”
“Because of your restrictions, NIH is unable to utilize human fetal tissue to develop animal models of COVID-19 that can test potential vaccines and treatments to decelerate or even end this global health crisis,” that letter elaborated.
In announcing the new policy last year, the Trump administration stressed the importance of “promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death” and called the pro-life cause one of the president’s “very top priorities.”
Ellison and his 14 colleagues, however, think Trump needs to “permit research on all fronts.”
“The present moment is not a time for politics,” the letter concludes. “Science-based decision making should be at the forefront when addressing this issue and the scientists’ position on this issue has been clear: currently, there are no alternatives to human fetal tissue that have been shown to be as powerful in conducting these important studies across a broad range of research topics.”
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