Volume 93, Issue 52

Wednesday, December 1, 1999


Fund-raising success announced

$10 million question a no-brainer for council

Tissue investigation reveals no wrong-doing

Scientists identify six new planets

Speakers focus energy on human rights violations

Reform party deals with Ramsay

Caught on campus


Tissue investigation reveals no wrong-doing

By Paul-Mark Rendon
Gazette Staff

Officials at the University of British Columbia are in the clear after an investigation into their use of fetal tissue for research revealed no wrong-doing yesterday.

Richard Spratley, UBC's associate VP-research, explained in 1994 the school used tissue obtained from a tissue procurement agency in the United States for use in a research project at the school.

Spratley said a deal with the American agency, currently under investigation for allegedly profiting from the sale of baby body parts, was a one time arrangement and completely legal. "It was a non-profit tissue bank set up in accordance with U.S. federal organ donor laws," he said.

He explained a review of the paperwork for the arrangement revealed no wrong-doing, since the tissue was obtained on a non-profit or cost-recovery basis.

Although Spratley maintains UBC was innocent in the deal, critics are arguing fetuses have no place in research labs across the country.

"Partly, it depends on your view on abortion," said Margaret Somerville, director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at the University of McGill. "Some people will feel you can justify the use of fetuses for research, but I think it's crazy to throw out that argument. [The] utility argument isn't, in my view, acceptable if what you're doing is inherently wrong in the first place,"

Somerville said the question of using fetuses for research was different than others because of the consent factor.

But Bernard Dickens, a University of Toronto law professor specializing in medical law, said there was a valid need for the use of fetal tissue in research. "This is essential, in that an alternative to using fetal organs is to use newborn babies or invitro fertilized babies, which is inherently objectionable.

"The issue is inflammatory because of its links with abortion, where frequently, strongly held convictions can obscure rational thinking," he said. "It's not the research itself that's problematic, it's the acquisition of the fetuses – if [the fetus] comes from women who don't know this is being done to their fetuses," he said.

Spratley said stringent guidelines are in place for the procurement of tissue, fetal or otherwise. For UBC to conduct its medical research involving any type of tissue, the donor must first give consent and there cannot be any strings attached to the donation, such as financial remuneration.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999