UNM Sets LImits on Future Fetal Tissue Research
The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center will no longer permit medical research to be conducted on fetal tissue donated from abortions performed after the second trimester of gestation.
“Changing the acceptance requirements for donated fetal tissue will align our research policies with our pregnancy termination practices,” said Paul B. Roth, MD, MS, Chancellor for Health Sciences, in a statement.
UNM’s Center for Reproductive Health performs only medically necessary abortions, as defined by New Mexico’s Medicaid program, said Eve Espey, MD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
An abortion is considered medically necessary if the pregnancy results from rape or incest or if continuation of a pregnancy would cause severe mental health or physical consequences for the woman, Espey said.
As a matter of policy, UNM Health System clinics and hospitals do not perform abortions past the point of fetal viability, except in cases of severe fetal anomaly or to preserve the woman’s health, she added.
Roth said in his statement that he had given the matter much consideration following the recent suspension of fetal tissue research at the Health Sciences Center. Studies being conducted by UNM neonatologist Robin Ohls, MD, were terminated after it was found that she had failed to follow internal rules regulating the transfer of tissue to an outside entity.
While no fetal tissue research is currently underway, Roth earlier had decided to that the Health Sciences Center should retain existing tissue that had been donated by women who had undergone abortions, having done so with the knowledge that the research had the potential to improve the health of future generations.
Going forward, however, "any UNM researcher wishing to make use of the samples would need to go through our stringent internal approval processes before proceeding,” Roth said.
UNM’s fetal tissue research was the subject of a lengthy 2016 investigation by the House Select Panel on Infant Lives. A subsequent inquiry by the New Mexico Attorney General concluded that no laws had been broken by UNM researchers.
In his statement, Roth acknowledged that fetal tissue research often stirs deep convictions. "We remain absolutely committed to addressing the health and health equity of our population while recognizing that the way we go about doing this must reflect diversity of cultures,” Roth said.