The National Institutes of Health (NIH) refused to provide answers demanded by lawmakers about fetal tissue research at the University of Pittsburgh, instead pointing to a highly criticized investigation of the school’s regulatory compliance.
In its letter to lawmakers last month, NIH did not provide much of the information requested by nearly 100 members of Congress last fall. Nor did it indicate it would continue investigating the issue, despite criticisms of the investigation Pitt commissioned from the law firm Hyman, Phelps, and McNamara (HPM).
NIH Relies on ‘Woefully Inadequate’ Report
NIH’s response noted its Office of Extramural Research (OER) had “been in discussions with the University of Pittsburgh to determine the veracity of these allegations.”
“The University of Pittsburgh commissioned an independent, third-party firm to review and assess their fetal tissue research processes and practices,” the letter, signed by NIH Acting Principal Deputy Director Tara Schwetz, continued. “This assessment reviewed all of the University of Pittsburgh’s activities related to procurement, disbursement, and use of fetal tissue to determine if they were fully compliant with all applicable laws.”
Senate Pro-Life Caucus Chair Steve Daines, R-Mont., derided NIH’s response as “extremely concerning and completely unacceptable” and the investigative findings by the law firm Pitt commissioned as “woefully inadequate.”
“Rather than conducting its own investigation, the Biden administration has chosen to rely on a woefully inadequate outside report paid for by Pitt,” he told me. “This report fails to address our concerns that Pitt’s research may have involved fetal tissue harvested from babies who were born alive or where the abortion methods were altered. This type of research is not only unethical and completely repulsive, but contrary to federal law. We need answers.”
Pitt May Have Harvested Live Babies’ Organs
Daines was referring to multiple physicians’ claims that Pitt’s statements “point to the possibility” that organs were “extracted from live fetuses.” That was based on statements the university made about minimizing ischemia time, which refers to “the time after the tissue collection procedure and before cooling for storage and transport.”
The university’s application to NIH also prompted lawmakers to question whether the university had violated fetal tissue trafficking laws as part of its federally funded “GUDMAP” research program. In applying for NIH funds, Pitt said it sought to “develop a pipeline to the acquisition, quality control and distribution of human genitourinary [urinary and genital organs and functions] samples obtained throughout development (6-42 weeks gestation).”
So far, the university has denied any wrongdoing and claimed it played no role in medical procedures. It’s unclear, however, why the university made comments about ischemia time and obtaining quality tissue.
Instead, Pitt has acknowledged that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), which it says is a separate entity, supplies tissue for its research. It also houses several locations for the university’s tissue bank and has encountered a variety of questions surrounding potential conflicts of interest with the university.
Lawmakers had asked the Biden administration for, among other things, documentation related to the abortions, such as the number of aborted, miscarried, stillborn, or newborn babies “utilized” in the GUDMAP program; records of “when ‘warm ischemia’ time was recorded with reference to death”; protocols for procedures; and steps taken to minimize ischemia time.
HPM’s investigation did not probe UPMC abortions and was derided as inadequate by state and national figures.
“Faced with serious questions about the ethics and legality of government-sponsored experiments on aborted babies at the University of Pittsburgh, the NIH is trying to pass the buck and refusing to exercise its oversight duties to protect both taxpayers and human research subjects,” Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden, who worked with Judicial Watch to shed light on Pitt’s research, said in an interview.
He added that lawmakers “demanded NIH produce its documents about the ghastly partial-birth abortion and infanticide kidney harvesting from fetuses with beating hearts approved in NIH’s grants to Pitt, but instead NIH points to an ‘assessment’ by Pitt’s lawyers that never even examined the harvesting abortions at Pitt’s clinical UPMC locations. … The agency can begin to comply by producing all of these to Congress immediately.”
NIH Dismisses Concerns
NIH’s OER told me it “does not comment on grant compliance reviews on its supported recipient institutions or supported investigators.” It added that for the GUDMAP project, a nurse “sought consent from individuals to donate tissue for research purposes after miscarriage or the decision to terminate pregnancy had been made.”
“Consented individuals were 1) women who were at less than 24 weeks of gestation and had experienced miscarriages or had already decided to undergo abortions, and 2) women at 25 to 42 weeks’ gestation whose infants were stillborn or died from natural causes soon after birth,” the agency continued. “The researchers had no contact with the mothers and families who chose to donate their aborted fetal tissue or deceased babies to science and were not involved in the donation process.”
“The NIH requires that NIH-supported organizations certify that they will comply with the NIH Grants Policy Statement, which incorporates Federal statutory requirements for research with human fetal tissue (see Section 4.1.14 Human Fetal Tissue Research),” OER added.