Scientific and Ethical Concerns in Neural Fetal Tissue Transplantation

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THIS REPORT PRESENTS a brief overview of the medical and ethical issues involved with the procurement, preparation, safety, efficacy, and subject protection of human fetal central nervous system tissue in the context of neural transplantation. The ethical perspectives from which to view the clinical use of fetal tissue include the following: 1) that fetal tissue from elective abortions is a surgical specimen; 2) that the use of such tissue involves fetal experimentation in which the fetus is a subject; and 3) that fetal tissue is considered as a cadaveric organ specimen, similar to other organs, but with special considerations compared with adult cadaveric tissue. The latter approach appears to be the most applicable and is parallel to the use of cadaveric organs and tissues after a declaration of brain death. Additional issues include the following: 1) the safety and quality of fetal tissue for implantation; 2) the hypothesis that “legitimization” and “redemption” (potentially positive effects of tissue donation in general) may lead to an increase in elective abortion rates; 3) the ethical issues of the validity and value of human experimentation involving neural grafting; and 4) the type of consent to be obtained and the appropriate timing. Elective abortions, however, probably will continue to be the primary source of fetal tissue for grafting for some time, until other tissue sources become available.

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