HHS should reinstate fetal tissue research ethics board, 37 senators and 100 reps demand in letter

Secretary Becerra needs to reverse decision to nix NIH board overseeing fetal tissue research, they said

EXCLUSIVE: Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and two of his House Republican colleagues are leading a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra demanding the Cabinet secretary reverse his decision to nix the National Institute of Health (NIH) ethics board overseeing human fetal tissue research.

Wicker, alongside Missouri Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer and Vicky Hartzler, are leading more than 100 other Republicans in a letter to Becerra expressing their concern of the HHS secretary cutting the NIH's Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board (EAB) as well as the reversal of a department policy "prohibiting funding for intramural research using human fetal tissue." 

Other Senate signees of the letter include Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Additionally, 98 other House members signed onto the letter, as well.

Under President Trump, the advisory board had broad authority to block fetal research proposals on ethics grounds. 

"The EAB provided critical ethical review of extramural research grant applications and its removal will assuredly reduce accountability and transparency in the use of tax dollars for ethically fraught research," the letter reads.

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"In addition, the recent decision to let federal researchers obtain, use, and store for intramural research the body parts of unborn children violently killed through abortion is deeply troubling," the lawmakers continued. "Americans deserve better stewardship of their tax dollars than research that exploits the remains of aborted infants."

The lawmakers said the restrictions on the use of human fetal tissue in 2019 "were instituted because of glaring abuses that came to light," pointing to "a careful review of an FDA contract with Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) to procure ‘fresh human fetal tissue’ for transplantation into mice" that ended with the contract being cancelled due to federal standard concerns.

"Further investigations and disclosures led HHS to discontinue intramural research projects that exploited the remains of unborn children and to convene the statutorily defined Ethics Advisory Board to provide oversight and accountability for extramural [human fetal tissue] projects," the legislators wrote.

The letter also points to recently published documents illustrating ABR’s business with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where federal employees were making orders with the company for fetal body parts "and sometimes fully intact bodies of infants aborted in the second trimester" as well as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) grafting "the scalps of aborted babies onto lab rats as part of research funded by grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)."

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The revelations, the lawmakers wrote, bring up a cornucopia of questions "about the safeguards the federal government has in place" to prevent taxpayer dollars from going to "unethical or illegal research purposes."

They also pointed out that some of the concerns the NIH ethics board encountered last year "found substantial failings in extramural [human fetal tissue] proposals related to ensuring proper consent, adherence to NIH policy, questions of financial gain from the exchange of fetal tissue, and lack of scientific justification for using HFT over alternative tissue sources."

"In fact, the Board voted to recommend that the Secretary withhold funds for 13 of 14 proposals on account of serious ethical concerns." the letter reads.

"Given these concerns, it is absolutely vital that NIH maintain adequate oversight of federally funded HFT projects," the letter continued. "Eliminating the EAB removes critical oversight and increases the likelihood that federally funded extramural projects may violate governing law and standing NIH polices with impunity."

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The lawmakers urged Becerra to reinstate the ethics board as well as the policy banning funding from going intramural human fetal tissue research and "to embrace more avenues for research that employ ethical, non-fetal alternatives."

They also called on the secretary to confirm to them "whether or not federally prohibited abortion procedures or changes in procedures were employed in the procuring of human fetal tissue for use in research funded by NIAID grants."

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HHS did not immediately return Fox News’ request for comment.

Houston Keene is a reporter for Fox News Digital. You can find him on Twitter at @HoustonKeene