The University of Wisconsin Chapter of the AAUP opposes the state legislative proposal to ban the use of fetal tissue and tissue derivatives in scientific research. As an organization dedicated to advancing academic freedom and helping ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good, we are concerned that this bill would criminalize valuable academic research. As both WARF (the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) and PROFS (Public Representation Organization of the Faculty Senate) have pointed out, fetal-derived cells and tissues are crucial components in the quest to cure neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), cancer, diabetes, heart failure, and macular degeneration. Combined, these diseases affect over 60 million Americans. Moreover, fetal-derived materials are essential to developing strategies to prevent birth defects, which are the leading cause of infant death in the United States.
But beyond that, it would chill biological and medical research at the university by setting a precedent whereby faculty and staff would be made criminals by pursuing research that is legal and regulated. Rigorous standards for ethical scientific research are already in place by virtue of federal law, and the UW Institutional Review Boards not only implement that law, they go beyond it by extending its protections even to research not subject to its provisions. Whereas federal law governs only federally funded transplant research with these tissues, UW subjects all research using these tissues to the same standards for informed consent to donate and assurance that the donation will have no effect on the number or timing of legal abortions.
In addition, the bill would interfere with the university’s ability to provide our students with experience conducting research that achieves translational scientific results. Instead, students would be limited to working with cell sources that will be less accurate for understanding the causes of many human diseases, thus reducing their exposure to applying the scientific method to real world problems. The criminalization of this research therefore undercuts our mission as a university to provide students with the best education we could provide.
Finally, this bill would severely hinder our ability to raise money for the university through medical and biological research grants. This is not merely a fiscal matter, but also matter of damaging the university’s mission to both conduct research for the common good and provide exceptional higher educational opportunities for our students.
We urge the legislature to reject the proposal to ban the use of fetal tissue in scientific research.