Catholic Georgetown University Will Continue Using Aborted Fetal Cells

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 30, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Georgetown University Will Continue Using Aborted Fetal Cells

by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 30, 2004

Washington, DC ( — In a move that is drawing significant criticism, Georgetown University officials have confirmed that scientists at the Catholic university will continue using cells from fetal issue obtained from aborted babies, despite pressure from pro-life advocates to stop.

Debra Vinnedge, executive director of Children of God for Life, a group established to stop the use of fetal tissue from aborted babies in research and products such as cosmetics, has been attempting to get the university to stop using the cells. Vinnedge wrote to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Washington, D.C. archdiocese asking him to put additional pressure on university officials.

McCarrick replied to the letter last month saying the issue had been resolved, which led Vinnedge to believe the use of cells from abortions would be discontinued.

However, 14 researchers said that stopping the use of the cells from abortions would "jeopardize years of work and funding" into treatments for illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer. Four other researchers decided on their own volition to stop using the cell lines and switch to using cells that did not come from abortions.

Georgetown officials decided to allow ethicists to determine whether or not their use should continue.

Georgetown bioethicist Rev. Kevin FitzGerald said that researchers should be able to continue using the cells from abortions because researchers did not know they came from abortions in the first place. He said the potential benefits of the research far outweigh the use of tissue from unborn children whose lives were destroyed by abortion and that the abortions were not performed so the scientists could obtain cells for research.

"The ideal would be not to be involved with [aborted fetal cells] at all," said FitzGerald, but that was not possible he said.

The cell lines containing the tissue from abortions have been removed from the university’s central repository, but cells from abortions will continue to be used in the current project and may be used again in the future if no alternatives can be found.

Vinnedge was "dismayed" by the decision and said Georgetown University had made compromises on endorsing the sanctity of human life.

She said she hoped the university stops using tissue from abortions once the current research project has concluded.

FitzGerald said Catholic institutions 10 years ago continued using vaccinations for chicken pox and measles-mumps-rubella that contained cells from aborted babies after the information came to light.

"The connection to the abortion was distant and remote enough to say that this in no way encouraged or facilitated further abortions," FitzGerald said.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs told the Associated Press that McCarrick believes Georgetown is not out of step with Catholic teaching.

"Georgetown reviewed the concerns the Cardinal raised, and we’re comfortable, and the cardinal’s, comfortable with their response,” Gibbs said. "A number of ethicists have reviewed it to ensure it’s consistent with Catholic teaching.”

The cells in question in the current Georgetown research project are anywhere from 25 to 40 years old.

The four cell lines from aborted babies in Europe that were used were HEK-293, IMR-90, MRC-5 and WI-38. The first is derived from the kidney of a fetus, while the other three came from human fetal lung tissue.

IMR-90, MRC-5 and WI-38 are used to create vaccines for diseases such as chicken pox, rubella, hepatitis-A, rabies and polio. Of them, chicken pox is the only vaccine that has no alternative to the use of fetal cell lines.

According to the Washington Post, cells from abortions must be used in research in order to qualify for some NIH funding.

Vinnedge discovered the use of the cells at Georgetown after discovering on the Internet that the cells in question had come from abortions.

John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center said Georgetown University is the first educational facility to publicly confront the issue. He too justified the use of the cells from abortions.

"I don’t see the moral difficulty in using these cell lines, because you’re not contributing in any way to the abortions, which took place decades ago" Haas told the Post.

"However, there is the risk of leading people to think that (some Catholic institutions do not) consider abortion to be a great evil and are indifferent to it and willing to work with tissue that result from that kind of action."

The Georgetown University Right to Life group also became concerned about the use of cells from aborted babies.

"I was shocked when I found out that this could happen at Georgetown, a Catholic university," Laura Peirson, the pro-life group’s president said. "We support medical research and want progress as much as anyone, but in this case, the ends don’t justify the means, no matter how noble the ends."

Related web sites:
Georgetown University Medical Center –