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University Associations Concerned Over Planned Fetal Tissue Research Subpoenas

April 1, 2016
 

The Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities have deep concerns about a congressional panel’s plan to subpoena universities for the names of faculty members, graduate students and other personnel involved in fetal tissue research. “Many scientists and physicians are deeply concerned for their safety and that of their patients, colleagues and students in light of inflammatory statements and reports surrounding fetal tissue donation,” the associations wrote in a letter Thursday to leaders of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. “We are troubled that this information is being sought without any rules or process in place to govern how the panel will use and protect personally identifiable and other sensitive information. … These requests appear to go beyond the panel’s stated scope of ‘relevant matters with respect to fetal tissue procurement.’”

The associations’ letter was prompted by recent revelations that the select panel intends to subpoena institutions for the names and identities of those involved in fetal tissue research, which is legal but controversial since some tissue is obtained through abortions. Some institutions responded to the panel’s initial request for information about fetal tissue research and procurement on their campuses by redacting faculty, staff and administrators’ names, citing security concerns. But the panel wants the information anyway, and is considering obtaining it by legal means. Some have said the process is more about intimidating scientists involved in this work than anything else, but members of the committee say they want to make sure the tissue was acquired legally.

Thursday's letter asks the panel to work in a "bipartisan fashion" to create rules about how personal information will be used, and how security will be promoted. "In the absence of such rules, we urge the panel not to compel the release of individually identifiable information," the associations wrote. "We urge you to allow academic institutions to continue their cooperative engagement with the panel, providing requested information about practices and the value of fetal tissue research without unnecessarily endangering the safety of those seeking to advance discovery and improve health."

 
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