Baby Chop Shop: America's Victims in the Sale of Human Flesh

Editors Note: This article appeared in Salvo 38, Fall 2016 edition and is used by permission.


Wanted: Intact brains from 24-28 week fetuses, “to dissect w/ summer camp students.” This is not a horror movie plot, but evidence released by the House Select Investigative Panel inquiring into the connection between fetal tissue researchers and abortion clinics.

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In mid-2015, undercover journalist David Daleiden began releasing videos revealing that Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics worked closely with fetal tissue procurement organizations, to provide organs and tissues on demand for research. Mainstream and social media pointedly ignored the news, awakening from their self-imposed slumber to announce Daleiden’s indictment in a flurry of headlines, only to relapse into their news blackout. A judge subsequently dismissed the charges, and the media dismissed its relevance.

Meanwhile, the House investigation piles up hundreds of pages of evidence documenting the unethical aspects of the too-cozy relationship between abortion providers and fetal tissue exploiters. In its June 23 announcement, the panel released nearly 300 pages of documents.[1] One document is “Procurement Notes,” a marbled cover lab notebook. A sampling of entries:

  • 24.7 weeks — “intact brain obtained and placed in 10% FA for [redacted] Camp”
  • 21.5 weeks — DIG (digoxin, used to cause fetal death prior to abortion) “Very, very red tissue. Tiny bits of fetal brain everywhere.”
  • Twins — 16 weeks = “1 w/ clubbed feet”
  • “10 weeks — One entire retina!”
  • Triplets — 12.7 weeks — 2 eyes, 2 hearts, 2 lungs, brain

Reading the notebook is not for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach. It reveals the impersonal, detached nature of the transactions. The researcher did note excitement when a brain culture grew, or an organ was retrieved intact.

In my testimony before the Select Investigative Panel on March 2, I argued three main points: 1) Respect the fetus, as a human being entitled to the protections of modern guidelines for medical research. 2) Those who participate in elective abortion, including the mother, are morally disqualified from providing consent for use of the fetus’s body, organs, or tissue. 3) There are better, more ethical options.[2]

Respect the fetus. The core question is, who or what is the human fetus? (“Fetus” is a technical term for the unborn offspring of a mammal, also defined as “developing young”.) The biological facts are clear: the fetus is an organism, in charge of its own integral functioning, enduring and developing over time. The fetus is not a potential human being, but an actual human being. As a human being, the fetus should be protected by human subjects research regulations. After all, greater restrictions are imposed for research not only involving pregnant women and fetuses, but also for prisoners—reflecting an overall trend in increasing protections, not eliminating them for one class of human beings. Distressingly, in the case of abortion, the fetus is treated as a useful biomedical resource.

Human dignity and moral standing. Those who are responsible for the death of the “developing young,” whether the mother or the doctor, have failed to recognize the fundamental principle of human dignity. Morally, they have forfeited their right to dispose of the remains of that tiny body.

Even more egregiously, others should not profit from the original wrongful act against these tiny human beings. Regulations on research using fetal tissue prohibits 1) payments beyond costs, and 2) changing the abortion procedure or timing in order to retrieve organs or tissue.

Evidence obtained by the House panel suggests that federal law is being violated. The more specimens a lab tech successfully retrieves, the more they are paid per specimen. Harvesting 1-10 specimens add a $35/tissue bonus, while 41-50 specimens ratchets the payment to $75/tissue. Volume pays.

Clinics receive additional payments, even though they incur no costs.[3] (The mother bears the cost of the abortion, and the procurement company covers the rest.) One company brochure offered an “easy to implement program + financial profits” for harvesting “raw materials” including fetal tissue.[4]

The entanglement between the abortion clinic, procurement organization, and researchers fosters a detached, consumerist view of the fetus as a biological factory supplying profitable products like testis, eyes, liver, sternum, and scalp as a sort of mail-order catalog for fetal body parts.[5]

Informed consent. A key aspect of respect for persons in biomedical research is informed consent. Some of the forms obtained by the House committee would not pass even the most negligent review by an IRB (institutional review board). One form claims that maternal blood and fetal tissue has been “used to treat and find a cure for such disease as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and AIDS.”[6] Really?

Women may be solicited based on gestational age, yet sharing her medical records with the lab tech runs afoul of HIPAA protections. Is she told of the specific body parts that are desired? The child’s brain, eyes, thymus, or liver might be requested. And the intended use? While they haven’t cured cancer, fetal kidneys have certainly be put in rats.[7] Really.

There is no effective institutional oversight, because the vast majority of abortions take place in clinics that escape requirements for hospitals and other ambulatory surgical centers. Not surprisingly, abortion clinic owners vigorously resist meeting those health standards.

The history of the use of human bodies and parts in medical education and research reveals a disturbing pattern of first seeking access from the most disadvantaged, the poor, minority ethnic groups, prisoners, the abandoned. And who is more vulnerable than the child in the womb slated for surgical death?

Some have argued that we all have a moral obligation to contribute our bodies for the good of society. By extension, the fetus, if asked, would want to help. Kathleen Nolan notes the irony: “Fetuses that have been excluded from membership in the human community by a societally sanctioned maternal decision to abort now have obligations to that same community . . . .”[8]

Ethical alternatives. Fetal tissue research is unnecessary. Despite decades of efforts, results have been meager. Meanwhile, ethically derived alternatives thrive. Over 3,330 approved ongoing or completed clinical trials now benefit annually more than 70,000 patients worldwide.

A just society has no moral or other claim on electively aborted fetal bodies, organs, or tissues. In fact, we have a moral responsibility to protest not only this kind of research, but the underlying abortions. Dismemberment of fetal bodies should be mourned. Instead, their brains are sold as the next cool thing to dissect at summer camp.



[2] Paige Comstock Cunningham, “Testimony of Paige Comstock Cunningham, JD,” accessed June 28, 2016,

[5] These are some of the more than 40 tissues offered in a drop-down menu. Exhibit C-3, ibid.

[7] Susan Scutty, “Kidney Harvested from Human Fetus Grown in Rat,” Medical Daily, Jan. 23, 2015, accessed June 28, 2016,

[8] Kathleen Nolan, “Genug ist Genug: A Fetus Is Not a Kidney,” Hastings Center Report, 18:6 December (1988): 14.