Investigative

University of Minnesota latest to be charged with using fetal tissue illegally

ultrasound-3-D-fetus-baby

Yesterday, Thomas More Society attorneys filed a petition in a Minnesota district court “charging the University of Minnesota with illegally procuring and using human fetal tissue for research.” The petition cites the University of Minnesota’s (UM) workaround of a state law on acquiring fetal tissue for research. This workaround is a violation of state law, the petition says, adding, “because the university’s actions are unauthorized, any public funds involved have been misused.”

Thomas More Society explains major points of the petition (Pro-Life Action Ministries, Incorporated, Brian Gibson and Bridget Busacker v. Regents of the University of Minnesota):

  • The University of Minnesota does not have authority to implement its administrative policy for “procuring and using human fetal tissue for transplantation research” when Minnesota law limits fetal tissue testing to only allow determining parentage prior to burial, for purposes of a criminal investigation, or for the health of the baby’s mother or her future offspring.

  • The University of Minnesota is violating Minnesota fetal tissue research law (as stated in Minnesota statute 145.1621).

  • The University of Minnesota policy allowing the testing of human fetal tissue from out-of-state for transplantation research is preempted by Minnesota law.

  • The Court should issue a writ enjoining the University of Minnesota’s administrative policy for “procuring and using human fetal tissue for transplantation research” as an ongoing violation of Minnesota law.

The state law limits tissue procurement to that obtained from miscarried or stillborn babies. Even if the university obtains body parts from another state, they are still subject to Minnesota regulations. Despite the revelation of these illegal practices, the publicly funded university continues to usurp the state’s authority.

The petition also notes that even if the university procures the remains of a human fetus from outside the state, the delivery of the human fetus or fetal tissue to Minnesota immediately subjects the fetal remains and tissue to Minnesota law.

UM Hides the Truth From the Media 

UM shone a spotlight on its own potential lawbreaking when it inaccurately portrayed its involvement in fetal tissue research. In January, the Star Tribune reported on the coverup UM perpetuated after the Planned Parenthood videos emerged in 2015 and researchers at UM were asked if they used fetal tissue in research; they said no, even though they did. The paper reports:

University officials were relieved at first to sidestep the national controversy.

“That’s great news. As long as [the office of the vice president for research] isn’t aware of anything, I think we could avoid a formal statement and just let [journalists] know the answer is no,” wrote spokesman Evan Lapiska in a July 30 e-mail. “No point in giving them a senior leader quote … when a one-word answer may be enough to keep us out of a story.”

But “no” wasn’t the right answer.

After an open records request from a conservative media outlet, the paper says, it was revealed that 10 UM researchers were working with fetal tissue. The paper reported:

Thirty university invoices show payments since 2008 — ranging from $325 to $3,135 — for fetal tissue from StemExpress and Advanced Bioscience Resources. The two California nonprofits received the fetal tissue from clinics in Minnesota and other states. The Meadowbrook ­Women’s Clinic of Minneapolis — now named Whole Woman’s Health — also provided fetal tissue to the U in the past for fetal brain research, Herman said.

And a congressional panel knew “no” was the wrong answer as well. The House Select Panel on Infant Lives also implicated UM in its July interim report:

The details of the university’s relationship with the clinic merit further investigation, as do its fetal tissue practices generally. Independent of the question of what payments or other value were exchanged between the University of Minnesota and clinics or tissue procurement companies, its underlying practices potentially violate several provisions of state law. Minnesota’s Anatomical Gift Act permits the donation of fetal tissue only if it is “a stillborn infant or an embryo or fetus that has died of natural causes in utero.” … The state also requires fetal remains, whether “resulting from an abortion or miscarriage,” to be disposed of “by cremation, interment by burial, or in a manner directed by the commissioner of health.”

Additionally, the congressional report says that UM made a policy change in order to avoid criminal liability:

The University of Minnesota apparently violated these laws by conducting research on aborted fetuses and additionally by disposing of fetal remains as biohazard waste. Following public disclosure of its practices, the university continues to procure fetal tissue, but it changed its policy to require such tissue to come from sources outside Minnesota and to provide for its disposal in the same way as donated human cadavers.

The institution’s decision to cross state lines to procure fetal tissue appears to be an effort to avoid criminal liability under Minnesota law. This should prompt Congress to pass legislation that would prohibit the crossing of state lines to evade such basic protections of human dignity at the most vulnerable stages of life.

The Petitioners Behind the Case

These efforts to, apparently, dodge both the media and the law have the petitioners concerned. Thomas More reports on Bridget Busacker, who is a graduate student at UM and was one of the petitioners. Busacker said:

The actions that the university has taken in response to its use of fetal tissue for research is appalling and disappointing to me. I selected the University of Minnesota because of its reputation and determination to uphold standards that respect the community. I feel that the university has let me and my peers down – not to mention the school’s fans, supporters, and Minnesota taxpayers. To promote our institution as Driven to Discover and then to defy the law in this way calls the integrity of the entire research program into question. How can we be world class if we are breaking the law?

The other petitioner, Brian Gibson, Executive Director of Pro-Life Action Ministries, added:

Part of what makes this case such an affront to the public is that in July 2015 the University of Minnesota expressly denied doing fetal tissue research on aborted babies. After the truth was exposed in September 2015 by the Center for Medical Progress and confirmed by multiple news outlets, the university is still behaving as if it is above the law.

Now the accusations are in the hands of the Fourth Judicial District of Minnesota in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Petitioners and concerned citizens are looking forward to hearing what UM has to say in a court of law.

The entire petition filed on Thursday may be accessed here.

The House Select Panel Interim Report may be accessed here.

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