More MS news articles for January 2001

Fetal tissue debate set to make return

Monday, Jan. 1, 2001
BY KEVIN O'HANLON The Associated Press

Debate over fetal tissue taken from abortions and used in research at state institutions promises to be revived when the Legislature convenes next week.
Sen. Dwite Pedersen of Elkhorn said he will introduce a proposed ban on the practice, although a similar measure died last session.

"I'm doing it for the unborn," Pedersen said.

Controversy erupted in November 1999 when it was revealed that the University of Nebraska Medical Center was using brain cells from elective abortions in its research on multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

Several state senators and several members of the Nebraska Board of Regents said they were unaware such research was being performed.

The issue grew more heated when it was reported that some tissue being used for the research was collected and donated by Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the abortion doctor who challenged Nebraska's law banning so-called partial-birth abortions.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Nebraska ban was so vague it was unconstitutional.

Sen. John Hilgert of Omaha withdrew a proposed ban on the use of fetal tissue last session after realizing he did not have enough votes to stop a threatened filibuster by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers.

Hilgert urged the university to seek alternatives to fetal tissue.

"Good progress in developing other sources is taking place," said Sen. Curt Bromm of Wahoo. "Patience is needed."

Of the 48 senators who responded to a presession survey by The Associated Press, 24 said they either would support a ban or were leaning toward doing so.

Seventeen said they opposed a ban or were leaning that way.

Seven did not answer the question. Sen.-Elect Mike Foley of Lincoln was the only lawmaker who declined to participate in the survey.

A poll conducted in November for the Omaha World-Herald found 32 percent of Nebraskans strongly support the research and 32 percent strongly oppose it.

Eugene Major of the National Institutes of Health testified at a hearing last year that strides are being made to find substitutes for fetal tissue. He emphasized that fetal tissue still has no substitute in some research circumstances.

Gov. Mike Johanns asked the university to stop performing the research, but University of Nebraska President L. Dennis Smith said the governor's request was a threat to academic freedom. The university's regents have voted to continue the research.

Opponents have called the research immoral and said the work has alienated a significant portion of taxpayers from the school.

Several senators say the regents, not the Legislature, should deal with the issue.

"That's what regents are elected for," said Sen. Jim Cudaback of Riverdale. "If the regents can't run the place, get rid of them."

Groups on both sides of the issue have vowed to the keep pressure on lawmakers, many of whom were lobbied heavily last session.

Pedersen said pressure does not worry him.

"I won't make it confrontational on my side because I don't get into that," he said. "I'm not carrying this for any one organization or team, I'm carrying it for the unborn."

Should the use of fetal tissue cells for research be banned at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and other state facilities? Yes - 18 (Baker, Brashear, Bruning, Coordsen, Cunningham, Dierks, Engel, Erdman, Hartnett, Jones, Maxwell, Pedersen, Preister, Redfield, Schrock, Smith, Tyson, Vrtiska) Leaning yes - 6 (Aguilar, Burling, Jensen, Kremer, Quandahl, Stuhr) Leaning no - 6 (Beutler, Bromm, McDonald, Pederson, Price, Wehrbein) No - 11 (Bourne, Brown, Chambers, Connealy, Kruse, Raikes, Robak, Schimek, Suttle, Thompson, Wickersham) No answer - 7 (Byars, Cudaback, Hilgert, Hudkins, Janssen, Kristensen, Landis)