Update: Committee Advances Bill Outlawing Use of Fresh Fetal Tissue

Sep 9, 2015

Heated debate at the Capitol could come Wednesday, before lawmakers vote on a divisive bill
Credit Flickr/althouse

It would become a felony in Wisconsin to sell or experiment with remains of fetuses aborted after 2014 under a bill an Assembly committee approved Wednesday morning. Researchers could still use cell lines and tissue obtained before this year in their quest to treat diseases.

Last month, State Sen. Duey Stroebel announced the proposal, saying, "As a society, it is bad enough that we allow millions of unborn children's lives to be ended. It is even worse that abortion providers profit of the sale of their body parts."

Federal law bans the sale of fetal tissue across state lines. In Wisconsin, several proposals to ban sales in the state have failed. But the current bill is gaining steam among legislators such as Stroebel because an anti-abortion group released videos of a California Planned Parenthood official discussing fetal tissue sales.

"The time is now that these aborted children be treated as humans and not specimens," Stroebel said

Dr. Robert Morlino is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Madison. He offered his opinion at a lengthy and heated committee hearing in Madison, saying, "You cannot engage in this kind of commercial arrangement and in this kind of research without treating human beings as things. That is absolutely unavoidable."

Others at the hearing likened medical research on fetal tissue to experiments Nazis conducted on humans.

While the bill's proponents argue human dignity is at stake, those opposed cite people suffering with incurable diseases and conditions. About 700 faculty at UW-Madison signed a letter arguing the bill would quash research that could lead to cures.

"If we take a sliver of fetal thymic issue and put it into a mouse, the mouse's white blood cells then get programmed to act as if they were from a person rather than from a mouse. This is incredibly important because these T cells are extremely important in fighting cancer, they're involved in aspects of HIV, they're important in inflammation in other immune diseases," Dr. Robert Golden said. He is dean of UW-Madison's School of Medicine and Public Health.

Golden says if Wisconsin bans the use of fresh fetal tissue, researchers will flee the state taking with them millions of dollars in research grants.

Paul Radspinner worries about the future of his company. It only uses older cell lines. Radspinner heads the flu vaccine company, FluGen.

"Venture capital groups will not invest in the state if we have restrictive policies in place that prevent companies from doing what they need to do to get research and cures out," Radspinner said.

If Wisconsin would ban the use and sale of fresh fetal tissue, it would not be the first state to do so. Several have enacted similar rules, but UW's Dr. Robert Golden says all have been challenged in court and struck down. He's not sure whether his university would mount a challenge should the Wisconsin bill become law. For now, opponents are focused on defeating the bill.

It now goes to the full Assembly for a vote. Passage by the Senate remains uncertain.