A Different World

Dr. Ben Carson used fetal tissue to save lives; Presidential Candidate Ben Carson decries the practice

Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson
Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson

Related: Carson defends his research on aborted fetuses

Related: Study: Abortion rate at lowest point since 1973

The complex reality of humanity and medical research and morality has coalesced today in the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson.

Carson, one of the world’s best-known, most innovative and successful neurosurgeons, did what many top experts do - used fetal tissue from aborted fetuses in research that has saved countless lives.

But Carson, a presidential candidate who has seen his poll numbers increase since the first GOP debate, has been one of the Republicans slamming Planned Parenthood for participating in the procurement of fetal tissue for research experts call absolutely vital, which has culminated in the latest round of the never-ending abortion wars:

A bill before the State Assembly aimed at banning the scientific use of fetal tissue would halt work that could alleviate or end the suffering of innumerable patients struggling with diseases from Alzheimer’s to viral infections, scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the Medical College of Wisconsin and Wisconsin’s biomedical community told state legislators at an Aug. 11 hearing.

“There is incredibly important, potentially lifesaving research that goes on in Wisconsin that relies on fetal material received from federally regulated tissue banks,” said Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and the university’s vice chancellor of medical affairs, at a hearing before the State Assembly’s Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. “On our campus, cancers including lymphoma, stomach cancer and other diseases have NIH-supported labs actively working on promising new treatment. All of this will stop if this bill is passed.”

Read more here.

And there’s this:

Vaccines have been one of the chief public benefits of fetal tissue research. Vaccines for hepatitis A, German measles, chickenpox and rabies, for example, were developed using cell lines grown from tissue from two elective abortions, one in England and one in Sweden, that were performed in the 1960s.

German measles, also known as rubella, "caused 5,000 spontaneous abortions a year prior to the vaccine," said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious-disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "We wouldn't have saved all those lives had it not been for those cells."

Fetal tissue was "absolutely critical" to the development of a potential Ebola vaccine that has shown promise, said Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, an associate director at NIH, which last year handed out $76 million for work involving fetal tissue, or 0.2 percent of the agency's research budget.

Read more here.

Carson’s predicament highlights how absurd, churlish our debate about abortion has become. In the real-world, where he saved lives in a variety of groundbreaking ways, Dr. Carson knew how important such work was and participated in it.

In the insane political one, he has tried to walk away from or ignore or hide all that he knows. That’s a shame.

If we were able to have a more grown-up conversation, maybe we’d get to a better place on abortion and this kind of research and find a more feasible way to protect the rights of women and the developing fetus. Everything wouldn’t be painted as black and white, and every time someone came out with edited, distorted realities - which is what the Planned Parenthood undercover sting was all about - we’d push back against them and have a reasonable discussion any way.

How I wish that day came soon.

I’ll never be for turning over the bodies of pregnant women to the state, nor will I ever be OK with a blanket right to abortion on demand. I think the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to limit the number of unwanted pregnancies, and that requires better health care for poor women really early on, as well as more contraception use. That’s how we’ve reached the lowest rate of abortions on record.

How do we improve upon that record? Any ideas?