WASHINGTON– Lawmakers are searching for every possible avenue to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and some House Democrats, including Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), are demanding the Trump administration lift restrictions on the use of human fetal tissue, mostly resulting from abortions, to help researchers develop medicines for COVID-19.
Scientists want to use this kind of tissue to research and possibly develop a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, but the Trump administration halted the use of human fetal tissue last June, citing “ethical concerns” — and eventually imposed a number of restrictions on its use.
These restrictions, which include an ethics panel to review requests for this kind of research that has yet to be set up, have made some medical research amid the devastating coronavirus pandemic nearly impossible, and scientists across the country have been prevented from “pursuing promising biomedical research” as a result, according to a letter sent by House Democrats to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week.
Most fetal tissue is obtained from women who choose to donate it after elective abortions, and Trump’s curtailment of the research likely pleases anti-abortion conservatives, who have long sought to ban the use of the tissue in federally-funded medical research.
DeGette joined Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in signing the letter and demanding that HHS Secretary Alex Azar lift the restrictions on the use of human fetal tissue so that scientists can ramp up the research and development of a possible cure or treatment for this deadly virus.
To beat this virus, the response must be based on science, DeGette told the Colorado Times Recorder.
“But right now, these restrictions are preventing our nation’s top scientists from advancing potentially life-saving research,” DeGette added. “In the midst of this unprecedented global health crisis, we should be doing everything we can to find cures.”
DeGette, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, is also an original cosponsor of the Protecting Cures Act of 2020, which was introduced last week. This bill would officially remove the barriers put in place by the Trump administration and prevent HHS from withholding funds from scientists that wish to use human fetal tissue for biomedical research.
“You have repeatedly stated that your agency is doing everything you can to develop vaccines and treatments for the novel coronavirus,” House Democrats said in their letter to Azar. “However, in June 2019 your agency banned all intramural research using human fetal tissue and placed new restrictions on extramural research.”
It is not the first time DeGette has sought legislation to advance medical research. From 2014 to 2016, the Colorado Democrat worked to pass the 21st Century Cures Act — which is “designed to help accelerate medical product development and bring new innovations and advances to patients who need them faster and more efficiently,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.
DeGette and House Democrats put this way in their letter to HHS last week: “[The] United States is a leader in biomedical research, and our nation should be leading the world to advance research that can alleviate this pandemic.”
Donald Trump hasn’t commented on the issue, but he’s offered his medical opinion a number of times during White House coronavirus task force press briefings, sometimes without offering any evidence.