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Published: Thursday, 5/20/2004

Michigan House OKs controls on fetal tissue

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A bill sponsored by state Rep. Matt Milosch (R., Lambertville) that would tighten an already existing law dealing with the use of fetal tissues from abortions has passed the Michigan House and moved on to the state Senate.

Under Mr. Milosch's legislation, people won't be able to sell or be paid for the transfer of any part of an embryo or fetus.

Mr. Milosch, an ardent foe of abortion rights, said that although there has been no evidence of black-market fetal tissue sales enterprises in the state, he proposed the bill as a preventative measure.

"If there is a possibility there could be marketing of fetal body parts, I want to make sure it doesn't happen," he said.

Abortion-rights advocates have criticized the legislation as a veiled attempt at curbing abortions.

"We have lots of problems with this bill," said Sue Wagner, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. "What it is is just sort of waving the flag. If there is wrongdoing, it should be prosecuted. If a right-to-life proponent or member of the Legislature knows there are incidents where this is occurring, they should report it to the proper authorities."

Mr. Milosch, who was asked to introduce the bill by the Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan, said no pro-choice group or any member of the Legislature spoke out against his bill, which passed 75-31.

Among the bill's 75 supporters were 13 Democrats, including Rep. Doug Spade of Adrian. "I've always been pro-life, and it certainly is a pro-life issue," he said.

Federal legislation passed in 1993 prohibits the sale of fetal tissue which is used in the research of diseases and illnesses. But the law does not prevent people from charging exorbitant shipping and packaging fees.

The issue gained prominence in 2000 after an ABC 20/20 expose detailed an alleged nationwide fetus tissue sale industry. The revelation led to a congressional hearing on the subject. But during the hearing. a key 20/20 source admitted he fabricated part of his story and had received payments from a group opposed to abortion rights.

Nevertheless, a number of states took notice and began passing their own statutes. To date, 28 states have passed legislation that ranges from prohibiting research on aborted fetuses and embryos to prohibiting fetus and fetal tissue sales.

In Ohio, the use of fetuses or embryos for research is prohibited, as is their sale.

In Michigan, women who have abortions can agree to have their fetuses used for research by signing a form acknowledging they will not be compensated or know where their fetuses end up. The new legislation will not alter this arrangement.

"If it had been about banning the transfer [of fetus tissue], there would have been a more heated debate," Mr. Milosch said.

As a result, some Michigan researchers don't appear to be concerned about the legislation.

"Based on what we know right now, we don't believe this will have any measurable impact on any research we are conducting," said Nicole Fawcett, a spokesman for the University of Michigan Health System.

Still, researchers elsewhere are concerned more stringent legislation could impact their work.

"It's just bad for research," said Lawrence Goldstein, secretary and public policy chairman of The American Society for Cell Biology. "If you want to understand human disease, you need to have human material."

Mr. Goldstein is critical of abortion foes' intrusion into medical research utilizing fetus tissue. "The ability to donate fetal tissue for research has no bearing on the decision to undergo an abortion," he said.

Others disagree.

"At any point where we're destroying human life for research or using innocent human life for research without their consent, we would be opposed," said Pamela Sherstad, a spokesman for Right To Life of Michigan.

Contact George J. Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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