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Biden Administration ends limits on the use of fetal tissue for research

The ban’s reversal fulfilled a promise made by the Biden administration to support science, and dismayed conservative groups that oppose fetal tissue research as violating the sanctity of life.

In this Dec. 4, 2019, file photo, Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. Federal officials have reversed Trump administration restrictions on using human fetal tissue for medical research. The move clears the way for using government money on work that in the past has led to treatments for a variety of diseases, including COVID-19. The changes announced Friday, April 16, 2021 allow government scientists to resume research that uses tissue from elective abortions. Scientists at universities also can now apply for federal grants without getting approval from a special ethics panel for any such work. The changes overturn rules imposed in June 2019. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra determined there were “no new ethical issues that require special review,” so the agency will return to using procedures that had been in place for decades before the Trump policy change in June 2019, a statement from the agency said. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The Biden administration on Friday lifted restrictions on the use of fetal tissue for medical research, reversing rules imposed in 2019 by former President Donald Trump.

The new rules, disclosed by the National Institutes of Health, allow scientists to use tissue derived from elective abortions to study and develop treatments for diseases including diabetes, cancer, AIDS and COVID-19.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the NIH, essentially restored the guidelines in place during the Obama administration. The NIH will “manage and oversee research using human fetal tissue according to policies and procedures that were in place” before the June 2019 ban, the agency said in an emailed statement Saturday. The development was first reported Friday by The Washington Post.

Scientists may purchase fetal tissue from sources approved before the ban, and all projects that had been approved before the Trump administration’s restrictions “will be reinstated without further review,” according to an email sent to scientists by the NIH.

The ban’s reversal fulfilled a promise made by the Biden administration to support science, and dismayed conservative groups that oppose fetal tissue research as violating the sanctity of life.

Human cells derived years ago from a fetus were used to develop the monoclonal antibody treatments given to Trump after his COVID-19 diagnosis in October. And many of the coronavirus vaccines funded by Operation Warp Speed were also tested in cells derived from fetal tissue.

In June 2019, the Trump administration abruptly cut all funding to projects in government labs that rely on fetal tissue. The NIH also required academic scientists seeking federal funds to provide elaborate justifications of their need for human fetal tissue, and set up an ethics board to review the proposals.

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The NIH said in its statement Saturday that it would not establish another ethics advisory board “because the HHS Secretary has determined there are no new ethical issues that require special review.”

Scientists must still follow other rules on the research, including obtaining informed consent from the tissue donor. They cannot pay donors to obtain the tissue or profit from studies, the agency said, but they are otherwise free to resume research.

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