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State Senate approves fetal tissue ban, despite possible risks to medical research

Flickr/Bill Dickinson

It would be a felony to get any money for donating or transporting fetal tissue in Michigan, under bills passed by the Republican-led Senate today. 

But Democrats say the bills are cracking down on something that's already illegal – and potentially criminalizing basic medical practices. 

Since 1993, it's been illegal to make any profitfrom fetal tissue donation. 

And last fall, Planned Parenthood announced it would no longer accept any reimbursement from medical companies for donating and transferring fetal tissue.

That was during the political firestorm over videos accusing Planned Parenthood of mishandling and making money from fetal tissue. Those charges were investigated by several states, including a grand jury in Texas that found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, and ended up filing criminal charges against the video's creators instead.

But Republican State Senator Phil Pavlov, the sponsors of the bills, says this is critical legislation. 

"I urge my colleagues to support these two very important bills, and to send a clear message that baby parts are not for sale in Michigan," he told the Senate Wednesday.

Earlier this year, researchers from Wayne State University testified that criminalizing reimbursement for the costs of donating and transporting fetal tissue would hurt "vital medical research," including "therapies for end-stage breast cancer, diabetes, and Parkinsons...." 

"Human fetal tissue research has been critical in establishing permanent cell lines for use in vaccine research for diseases such as polio, hepatitis A, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, and rabies," said Professor Randall Armant and Sascha Drewlo of Wayne State University School of Medicine, in their testimony before the Senate. 

"This language could make it almost impossible for medical facilities to legally dispose of fetal remains," said state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren. "In addition, it would make it much more challenging for the top-notch medical facilities in our state to engineer life-saving cures and treatments for serious diseases." 

The bills now head to the House. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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