healthcare, Women — April 28, 2016 at 6:37 pm

“Fetal tissue” bills in the Michigan Legislature could hinder medical research and care


By pushing legislation they may not fully understand, lawmakers would be harming more than abortion providers.

There’s a reason legislators should leave the medical decision-making to doctors and patients: medical care isn’t their area of expertise.

And in their haste to appease anti-choice voters, Michigan legislators are pushing poorly written legislation that could have serious unintended consequences — including hampering the work of hospitals and researchers.

Since I wrote about SB 564 and SB 565 — a set of “fetal tissue” bills that would outlaw the already-illegal practice of selling fetal tissue for a profit — it has been voted on and passed in the Michigan Senate.

Next stop for these bills would be the House Health Policy Committee, where they would decide if the bills should come to a vote on the House floor.

But these bills shouldn’t go anywhere, and certainly not as written. One section in particular would have the disastrous outcome of imposing criminal penalties on doctors, researchers and other medical providers who are simply doing their jobs.

In February 2016, ACLU of Michigan Legislative Director Shelli Weisberg wrote to Senator Jim Stamas, one of the co-sponsors of SB 564 and 565, expressing concerns about the language of the bills, particularly Section 2 of SB 564.

Weisberg makes the case perfectly in her letter, so I’ll let her explain:

… it is already illegal to profit from the procurement and contribution of fetal tissue for research. However, an entity can collect the reasonable cost of procurement and transfer of fetal tissue, which follows exactly the same rules as procurement of organ donation. This would include the expenses incurred for storing, packaging and hiring a company to transport to a lab tissue or organs for research.

SB 564 and 565 seek to go further and prohibit the reimbursement of the cost of procurement for fetal tissue designated for research if that tissue is the result of an elective abortion.

In Sec 2690 (2) of SB 564, there is a more expansive prohibition against anyone financially benefiting from or receiving ANY type of compensation for the distribution or transfer of a portion of an embryo… obtained as a result of an elective abortion. […]

This section (2) means that a company that stores and transports medical tissue and organs, or a company that is a medical waste disposal company could not accept payment for their services if the medical products included tissue from an elective abortion.

Here is why this is so problematic and likely beyond the intent of this legislation.

1. Doctors and hospitals perform abortions due to fatal or severe fetal anomalies and the parents often decide to have the tissue either donated or sent to a lab for genetic testing to determine if the mother should risk becoming pregnant in the future. Severe fetal anomalies are devastating to a family. Important and lifesaving research is being conducted to help women understand whether they face a recurring risk, and asking a woman with a history of fatal fetal anomaly to bring a pregnancy to term or wait for a spontaneous expulsion of a fetus that she knows will not survive is horribly cruel. This bill contains no exception for that. This section of the bill would make it a crime for a transfer company to take that tissue to a lab, or for a medical waste disposal company to receive that fetal tissue.

2. Doctors and hospitals often perform a D&C due to an impending miscarriage. Although SB 564 makes an exception for a miscarriage, there is no consensus on when a miscarriage is complete. For example, some women actively miscarry for several days before the fetus is spontaneously expelled. This can be dangerous because the woman can become septic during a prolonged miscarriage, which is why most hospitals will perform a D&C. But some hospitals won’t call it a miscarriage as long as there is a fetal heartbeat. The risk is that if the D&C is performed before the fetus has died, a zealous prosecutor might decide it was an “elective” procedure and the medical waste company that is hired by the hospital or doctor’s office would be subject to criminal penalties under this section of the bill.

Despite Weisberg’s well-presented and legitimate concerns, the language of Section 2 remains in SB 564.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan is troubled by the potential impact on medical research, too. Here’s what the organization said in a message to supporters explaining how SB 564 and SB 565 would limit fetal tissue research in Michigan “by placing unprecedented restrictions on the regulated, legal and life-saving practice” of fetal tissue donation:

Historically, fetal tissue research has led to life-saving vaccines and treatments for polio, measles, shingles, rabies, and Hepatitis A, among many other diseases and conditions. Just last month, fetal tissue research findings on the Zika virus were published.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes the value of fetal tissue as a “critical resource” for lifesaving research for many diseases and debilitating conditions.

It’s obvious that SB 564 and SB 565 were pushed through the Michigan Senate to appease anti-choice voters. It can’t be a coincidence that the bills suddenly moved after sitting for months — and were put to a vote in the Senate — on Right to Life of Michigan’s 2016 Legislative Day in Lansing. But it’s hard to believe that even the most zealous anti-choice legislators would be so reckless as to punish medical providers and researchers for simply doing their jobs.

The Michigan Legislature needs to understand the dangerous repercussions of passing this legislation. Contact House Health Policy Committee Rep. Mike Callton not to bring SB 564 and SB 565 before the committee.

Passing redundant laws is, at best, a waste of time. But placing criminal penalties on hospitals, doctors, researchers and other medical providers for delivering lifesaving care and advancing vital research would be an act of legislative malpractice.

[Image via Pixabay.]