Two Republican state representatives want to ban the sale, transfer and experimentation of aborted fetuses in Wisconsin. It's a response to recently released videos that show a Planned Parenthood official meeting with actors about the group's donations of intact specimens.
The controversial videos have sparked debate over a process that is highly regulated and has always been surrounded by controversy.
Reps. Andre Jacque and Joel Kleefisch circulated their proposal for co-sponsorship on Thursday.
The selling of fetal organs and tissue is already illegal under federal law, just as it is illegal to sell human organs and their tissue. But individuals can donate fetal tissue.
In fact, an entire industry has formed around the brokerage of donations between individuals, physicians and researchers, as well as the processing and transportation behind these samples, said George Annas, professor and chair of the department of health, law bioethics and human rights at Boston University.
These organizations can't receive a “valuable consideration” for the tissue, but they can charge for their services.
“They're clearly doing it to make money, they're not non-profit organizations, they're for-profit,” Annas said. “There's this whole business going on that not many people know about and it's unclear whether people care about it or not.”
What is clear is that if abortion wasn't often a part of the process, fetal tissue donation “wouldn't be an issue,” Annas said.
At the advent of fetal tissue donation, conservatives argued that the promise of a donation could tip an indecisive woman in favor of having an abortion, but most opponents don't take issue with tissue donation in the event of a miscarriage.
It's unclear how many providers supply tissue, and it's not something most hospitals want to talk about. No data exists to show how many providers donate tissue, said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics in New York University Langone Medical Center.
Caplan notes that tissue donation can become unethical if a provider fails to obtain fully informed consent for donation from the mother, or if the abortion procedure is modified in any way to obtain the tissue that could create additional risk for the mother beyond the abortion procedure.
Fetal tissue research isn't nearly as popular today as it was in its infancy, but it still gets some traction, Annas said. Caplan, a known critic of Planned Parenthood's fetal procurement policies, said the research community doesn't seem to be speaking up about the controversy behind fetal tissue donation, which may mean that an abundance of fetal tissue isn't necessarily needed anymore.
“Either way, Planned Parenthood should consider getting out of the whole procurement area,” Caplan wrote in an e-mail. “If researchers won't defend it then they have little motive to be involved …politically it may make sense to either withdraw or confine donation to a few of the busiest clinics where everything is done absolutely by the book.”