Thursday, July 16, 2015

Planned Parenthood scandal reveals other concerns

By Amanda Alexander
Office of Social Concerns

As many of you have probably heard, evidence emerged earlier this week that Planned Parenthood has been harvesting tissue and even organs from aborted fetuses to be used in medical research. The Twittersphere exploded with outrage when the news broke, and the attacks on the villainy of Planned Parenthood intensified. In our absolute disgust, however, there is a danger that we can miss a teachable moment: Planned Parenthood does this because there is a market for fetal tissue.

What most struck me about the news this week was not that fetal tissue was being harvested, but that there is a research industry that depends on fetal tissue, and this industry is large enough to warrant developing protocols that will save this tissue during an abortion so that it can later be used for research. This is especially troubling to me as I recall that stem cell research contributes substantial amounts of money to California’s economy. One website reported that in 2013, one agency specializing in stem cell research generated $286 million tax revenue (

There is a tendency in society to lapse into indifference with regard to our medical technology. As long as the end results will serve the needs of our own disease, we tend not to look closely at the means by which that technology was developed. This attitude is of course an extension of the indifference with which most of us have probably, at some point, viewed the economy in general. As long as there is positive growth and benefit for us, we aren’t concerned with the lives that are literally ripped apart in order to support it.

I have no great wisdom to offer in response to this situation. I only hope that we can use it as a springboard to discuss both what the role and purpose of medicine and medical research is or ought to be, and to reflect on the attitude of indifference (or selfishness?) that has allowed for the emergence of such an economy that is driven by such practices. As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si, “whatever is fragile… is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule” (#56). I think it’s time we begin to ask ourselves seriously: which God do I promote through my choices, decisions, and actions? The God of Jesus Christ, or god of economic interest?

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