Testimony of Samuel M. Cohen, M.D./Ph.D.
University of Nebraska Medical Center
To the Health & Environment Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee
United States House of Representatives
Concerning Fetal Tissue Research
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee: I am Dr. Samuel Cohen. I am Chairman of the Department of Pathology and Microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha where I have been on the faculty for the past nearly 20 years. I am also a professor in the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer at the Medical School. My own research work is in cancer, especially chemical carcinogenesis. However, I am here today to express my strong support for fetal tissue research, which is being actively pursued in my department, and the potential future benefits of this research for treating human disease.
I speak today concerning the need to ensure the advancement of critical medical research while protecting the ethical and moral concerns of the American people. Fetal tissue is used in a variety of medical research studies and is vital to the biomedical research enterprise. Guidelines and laws governing the use of this tissue ensure its safe and ethical use. I believe that the great majority of those who use fetal tissue in their research are scrupulous in following the letter and spirit of the law, among other reasons because they are aware of the great sensitivity around its use. Certainly anyone in willful violation of the law should be prosecuted as allowed by law. The continuing challenge to Congress is to assure the public that new knowledge will not be misused and that the ethics of work enabled by this miraculous line of research is carefully considered while protecting the advancement of science.
I am concerned that in attempting to enforce the laws governing fetal tissue research and the distribution of such tissue, Congress may unnecessarily over-restrict fetal tissue research. This would be a grave mistake. In my home state of Nebraska, such an effort is underway, but as our state legislators have come to understand the remarkable potential of this work, they have come to defend it.
Why do I, and other researchers like me, believe fetal tissue research is important?
Fetal tissue studies play a vital role in many areas of biomedical research. It is critical that Congress protect the ability of scientists to use this valuable resource as a means for studying human disease. We in the scientific community are aware of the ethical sensitivities that have been expressed regarding the use of fetal tissue. But, surely, obtaining cells from legally obtained abortions for potentially life-saving purposes is ethically permissible and indeed ethically necessary. I am confident that we can protect against abuses in the fetal tissue supply arena while also protecting promising life-saving research.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present my thoughts today. I would be pleased to answer any questions.