According to The Washington Post, a new advisory board, “created to review the ethics of proposed fetal tissue research grants, is urging the Trump administration to block government funding for nearly all of the applications — essentially seeking to ban support for most such scientific work.”

  • “The recommendation that the National Institutes of Health withhold funds from all but one of a slate of 14 research proposals means that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who has the final say, would need to buck the will of a board he convened — and of social conservatives crucial to President Trump’s political base — for the projects to get federal support,” The Post wrote.
  • The board “sent its advice in a report to HHS on Tuesday, less than three weeks after the announcement of its members, two-thirds of whom are outspoken opponents of abortion, fetal tissue research or both,” the report stated. “The group has operated in secrecy, with even its own members unaware of who else was in it until the end of July.”
  • The “15-page report does not name any of the researchers or their projects. But it shows that the board’s votes were splintered to varying degrees, with four of the proposals receiving a 14-to-1 vote against.”
  • The Post wrote that “scientists who use fetal tissue in their work, as well as their advocacy organizations, were infuriated by the report, regarding it as a worst-case scenario that they had predicted for months.”

“The evaluation process for research should be insulated from ideology and special interests,” said a statement swiftly issued by the International Society for Stem Cell Research. “It is disheartening to see an ethics review perverted by an administration seeking to achieve a policy goal, a near ban on research with human fetal tissue.”

  • Many scientists “consider fetal tissue an invaluable research tool that has led to advances in understanding and treatment of several major diseases and could be useful in developing cures and vaccines for the novel coronavirus,” The Post added. “Social conservatives aligned with Trump regard such research as unethical because it hinges on small accounts of tissue from aborted fetuses, and they have long argued against using taxpayer money to support it.”
  • The Post reported that in June 2019, “Trump rewrote the rules for federal funding of such research, over the objections of some of his health advisers.”
  • The board’s chair is Paige Comstock Cunningham, “the interim president of an evangelical Christian college, Taylor University, who used to be president of Americans United for Life, an antiabortion group. Five other board members are affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List. Four others also have publicly opposed abortion or fetal tissue research,” The Post explained.

“I think the whole thing is a travesty,” said Lawrence Goldstein, a senior faculty member at the University of California at San Diego, who denounced the process late Tuesday. “They handpicked a board that wouldn’t approve very much, if anything. And they got the outcome that they wanted.”

Read the full report here.