Embryology Act allows British researchers a large degree of freedom in line with the first ethical position, based on the moral view of the pregnant woman as the primary decision maker. To aid research, the Medical Research Council maintains a tissue bank to collect and prepare fetal tissue for research.3

It is unclear where initiative for change in the United States will come from, but discussants agreed that the public is generally receptive to the goals of fetal research to lessen or alleviate serious health problems. It was further argued that scientists have a responsibility to interact with legislators and the public to help create the conditions for meaningful change. The difficulty of achieving such change, however, can be seen in the current state of organ transplantation. Repeated surveys have shown overwhelming public approval of organ transplantation. Yet, there are still no effective procedures for obtaining an adequate supply of organs, a problem that would be even more difficult for fetal tissue transplantation. Another special characteristic of fetal tissue banks is quality. In recently established tissue banks that are limited to spontaneously aborted fetuses, the material is frequently found to be abnormal or infected and, consequently, of little value for therapy or research. A necessary, but fundamental, change would be to establish tissue banks for the storage of normal, therapeutically useful tissue from elective abortions.

It was clear from the discussion that many ethical questions will reemerge. For example, does a woman seeking an abortion have the right to know everything that will be done to her fetus in a research project, based on the possibility that particular kinds of research might be objectionable to her? With the federal funding mechanisms for fetal research being reconstituted, it appears that such questions will again become the grist for public debate.


A comparison of other countries' approaches to biomedical ethics questions, including fetal research and fetal tissue transplantation, is included in the Office of Technology Assessment report cited in footnote 1 of the Setting the Stage chapter (p. 4).

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