Amid COVID-19, Pro-Lifers Push to Avoid Abortive Fetal Cells in Medicine

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Despite the ethical challenges, most still concede to using old cell lines in life-saving drugs.

President Donald Trump has praised the treatments he received for the coronavirus, including an experimental COVID-19 drug cocktail, as “miracles coming down from God.” But in the week after his hospitalization, some questioned the president’s endorsement of the medication—which he says he wants to make more widely available for free—since it was tested using aborted fetal tissue and his administration promotes a pro-life platform.

This is an ethical dilemma that pro-life Christians have wrestled through long before the coronavirus. Given the role of old fetal cell lines in more than half a century of vaccine development—including options for a COVID-19 vaccine—many have been able to reconcile the use of fetal tissue from decades-old abortions while opposing the use of fetal tissue from new abortions for further testing.

That’s actually the current position of the Trump administration as well. Last year, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced plans to discontinue research “that requires new acquisition of fetal tissue from elective abortions,” though it will still allow the use of abortive fetal tissue through older cell lines, of which there is plenty in supply.

Trump’s treatment included an antibody developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which used a fetal tissue cell line from an abortion in the 1970s to test the efficacy of the drug. Several COVID-19 vaccine candidates also use this cell line.

The actual drug cocktail contains two antibodies. The first uses embryonic mouse stem cell lines—not human ones—genetically altered to contain human antibodies from previously recovered patients, a research technique often termed …

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