Secrets of the Dead-Baby Industry
Aborted fetuses are being dissected alive, harvested and
sold in pieces to fuel a vast research enterprise
Alberta Report Newsmagazine August 23, 1999
BC Report Newsmagazine August 30, 1999
Reproduced with permission
The doctor walked into the lab and set a steel pan on the table. "Got you
some good specimens," he said. "Twins." The technician looked down at a pair
of perfectly formed 24-week-old fetuses moving and gasping for air. Except
for a few nicks from the surgical tongs that had pulled them out, they
"There's something wrong here," the technician stammered. "They are
moving. I don't do this. That's not in my contract." She watched the doctor
take a bottle of sterile water and fill the pan until the water ran up over
the babies' mouths and noses. Then she left the room. "I would not watch
those fetuses moving," she recalls. "That's when I decided it was wrong."
The technician uses the pseudonym "Kelly." She has her back to the
camera, she wears a wig, and her voice is electronically modified because
she says she fears for her life. Until a few months ago Kelly worked for a
Maryland company called the Anatomic Gift Foundation. Her job was to procure
fetal tissue for research. She worked at a Planned Parenthood clinic that
was also a member of the National Abortion Federation. Her interview appears
on the May issue of "Life Talk" video magazine--the first of a monthly
series of videos released by Life Dynamics Inc., a renegade pro-life group
based in Denton, Texas, that admits to having spies work in abortion clinics
to uncover their most closely guarded secrets.
This week the group is releasing the documentary evidence it has gathered
since Kelly approached them nearly two years ago. Life Dynamics has dozens
of order forms from researchers requesting fetal parts, price lists for
fetal organs and tissue, and donation consent forms for women undergoing
abortion. It offers a gruesome glimpse at a vast trade in human tissue from
babies that are aborted, and sometimes vivisected, to satiate the exploding
multibillion-dollar biotechnology industry.
The traffic in tissue flows worldwide into respected tax- funded
laboratories, including Canadian ones. The research itself is usually for
laudable goals, from helping prenatal infants survive to curing Parkinson's
disease. But the trade, worth billions, raises myriad ethical questions: Are
some humans being killed to benefit others? Are women being exploited to
support tissue collection? Who is profiting from the trade? And what are the
social implications of its existence?
Once the stuff of cheap science-fiction, human clones, artificial wombs
and human-animal cross-species are all now serious possibilities. Sexless
procreation is already a reality with in vitro fertilization. Selective
breeding of human beings is commonplace thanks to embryo screening and
"genetic terminations." And human-human brain cell transplants are
government-funded. All of these endeavours rely on aborted fetuses.
Scientists have used fetal tissue in research since at least the 1930s,
says Pittsburgh researcher Suzanne Rini, author of the 1993 book Beyond
Abortion: A Chronicle of Fetal Experimentation. Thirty years ago, as
abortion laws were relaxing and some second- and third-trimester abortions
were performed by hysterotomy (essentially a Caesarean section), experiments
on live fetuses were cutting-edge technology. Geoffrey Chamberlain received
a professional award for research (outlined in the March 1968 issue of
The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology) in which he took live
aborted fetuses, attached them to an artificial placenta, perfused them to
see if he could make them live, and then pulled the plug on them. No one
It was shortly after that article, Mrs. Rini notes, that the Cambridge
Evening Post featured a story on Lawrence Lawn, a physician who did manage
to provoke controversy when it was learned that he was procuring live
fetuses from a private abortion clinic. "We are simply allowing something
which is destined for the incinerator to benefit mankind," he said, obliging
a photographer with a picture of himself standing next to a dying fetus
suspended in a perfusion tank. Yet even Dr. Lawn believed there were limits.
"Of course we would not dream of experimenting with a viable child. We would
not consider that to be right."
With the decriminalization of abortion in the 1970s, fetal research
became, in the words one ethicist, a "golden opportunity" for researchers.
The public almost never heard about fetal experimentation. But by the 1980s,
some of the most macabre research was being publicly funded. Mrs. Rini
catalogues experiments ranging from the perfusion of impaled beating fetal
hearts with adrenaline and caffeine to eye-tissue transplants and skin
grafting. Dr. Bernard Gondos of the University of Connecticut at Farmington,
whose research on fetal gonads described most of his specimens as "previable
dead," lamented having to import fetuses from outside the United States. Dr.
Karen Holbrook of the University of Washington received a $239,740 grant in
1984-85 for her work on "Fetal Skin Biology" using first-, second- and
third-trimester human fetuses. She told Mrs. Rini: "Hopefully they are not
born alive. It's better to avoid that. The skin is taken after fetal
demise." Asked if the skin diseases she was trying to diagnose prenatally
were fatal, Dr. Holbrook replied, "No, but they ruin your life."
By the 1980s transplants had become entrenched, and fetal tissue, which
grows quickly and is less likely to trigger an immune reaction in a host,
became even more coveted. Fetal tissue transplants became part of efforts to
treat diabetes, Huntington's disease, blindness, spinal cord injury,
Parkinson's disease, leukemia and more. In 1988, U.S. president George Bush
banned federal funding of fetal human-to-human transplants. This move was
widely mistaken for a ban on all fetal tissue research; in fact, most such
research carried on unimpeded. In any case, Bill Clinton's first official
act as president in 1993 was to strike down the ban. People were demanding
to be "treated" with fetuses. California lawyer Joan Samuelson had founded
the Parkinson Action Network (PAN) in 1990 to lobby for an end to the
moratorium. "Will lifting the ban save us in time?" she asked when it was
abolished, and she began lobbying for an accelerated grant review process
for fetal-tissue transplant research.
Transplants of brain tissue from young fetuses (usually aborted at less
than 10 weeks) into Parkinson's sufferers have attracted the most public
attention to fetal tissue research. In 1990 the results of Olle Lindvall's
research team's transplants into four Swedish patients were hailed as
"promising" because one recipient appeared to have benefited remarkably. The
other patients were not monitored long enough to determine the grafts'
Neuroscientists presenting findings at the XIII International Congress on
Parkinson's Disease in Vancouver last month sounded optimistic, but their
data was not the knockout blow Parkinson's researchers have been hoping for.
Thomas Freeman of the University of South Florida reported that 360 patients
have received human tissue transplants in 17 centres worldwide to date. But
the variables researchers use to evaluate success differ so widely as to be
incomparable, so he focused on the results of his own "open trial" on six
patients, which he admitted was open to placebo effects and observer bias.
The only fetal tissue transplant study to be performed with a control group
so far was published in April by Curt Freed of the University of Colorado
and Stanley Fahn of Columbia Presbyterian. They followed two sets of
patients: those who actually received neural fetal cells and those who had
their heads opened for a sham surgery in an attempt to eliminate the placebo
Although the Medical Post headlined the research story "Parkinson's
progress," and the New York Times proclaimed, "Hints of success in fetal
cell transplants," Dr. Paul Ranalli, a professor of neurology at the
University of Toronto, calls the research "hugely unimpressive." The only
benefits were bestowed on patients under age 60, he notes, and the vast
majority of Parkinson's patients are senior citizens. Even in those cases,
he adds, "a magnifying glass is required to discern any functional benefit."
What is more, Dr. Fahn told the Vancouver congress that he was disturbed
by an unexpected outcome of the trial: facial "runaway dyskinesias"
(involuntary muscle movements) which were particularly severe in the younger
patients. Other researchers have noted similar findings, says Dr. Freeman.
As with drugs, there could be a dose at which fetal cells "may be harmful,"
Procedures on more Parkinson's patients will help clarify these findings.
Dr. Freeman told the attendees that Canada is leading the way in these
experiments, primarily at the lab of Dr. Ivar Mendez at Dalhousie University
in Halifax. Dr. Mendez, who declined an interview last week, received a
$90,042 grant from the Medical Research Council of Canada for 1999-2000. His
transplant data is anticipated soon.
At the advent of the new millennium it is "pleuripotent" embryonic stem
cells that are at the forefront of fetal tissue research. Ethicists
arealready distinguishing between using human embryos "left over" from in
vitro fertilization and humans created specifically for research. "Farmed"
embryos are capable of differentiating into many types of tissue and are
being hailed as new sources for whole organs for donation, and for human
As bright as all the research may sound, others discern a darker side.
There is no law on fetal tissue collection--only guidelines. Researchers are
free to hold to them or ignore them. And where laws do exist--such as the
ones against infanticide and the sale of human tissue--there are ways around
them, and they are sometimes broken outright.
Kelly explains that the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic she was
working in received a service fee from the Anatomic Gift Foundation for its
tissue "donations." "We were never employees of the abortion clinic," she
explains. "We would have a contract with an abortion clinic that would allow
us to go in...[to] procure fetal tissue for research. We would get a
generated list each day to tell us what tissue researchers, pharmaceuticals
and universities were looking for. Then we would go and look at the
particular patient charts--we had to screen out anyone who had STDs or fetal
anomalies. These had to be the most perfect specimens we could give these
researchers for the best value that we could sell for."
Probably only 10% of fetuses were ruled out for anomalies, she adds. The
rest were "healthy donors."
Fetuses ranged in age from seven weeks to 30 weeks and beyond. Typically,
Kelly harvested tissue from 30 to 40 "late" fetuses each week. "We were
taking eyes, livers, brains, thymuses, and especially cardiac blood...even
blood from the limbs that we would get from the veins," she says.
Researchers used their own shipping firms--"UPS, Fedex or a special
courier," she adds. "We would take it in a box and put it on as regular
cargo. Sometimes it would be an intact fetus or it might be a batch of eyes
or 30 to 40 livers going out that day, or thymuses. Whatever it was, there
were mass quantities of it going out." To support this claim, Life Dynamics
provides copies of dozens of order forms for fetal parts from North American
researchers. They contain names of researchers, universities and
pharmaceutical companies, day and evening telephone numbers, courier account
numbers, the type of tissue requested, preferred gestational age of the
fetus, and other details.
A sample, from a scientist studying the "Biochemical Characterization of
human type X Collagen," requests "Whole intact leg, include entire hip
joint, 22-24 weeks gest." The extractor is directed to "dissect by cutting
through symphasis pubis and include whole Illium [hip joint]. To be removed
from fetal cadaver within 10 minutes."
One order form carries the name of the University of British Columbia's
Dr. Vanugram Venkatesh alongside a request for an international Fedex
shipment of "16-24 week lungs (trachea not required)" to study "molecular
mechanisms of fluid reabsorption in human fetal lung." "Significance:
Respiratory Distress Syndrome...a major cause of death in premature
infants." The memo adds: "Bill our account."
Contacted last week at his Vancouver office, Dr. Vankatesh said that he
did do research on immature lungs two years ago, with a Medical Research
Council grant, at the B.C. Children's Hospital. But he added, "I don't do
that anymore." Asked if he used human tissue, he replied, "Yeah," then
changed his mind. "Well, we were doing genetics mainly...Where are you
getting your information? We were using cell lines." Asked if he had ever
ordered fetal lungs from the U.S., he said, "I have to go," and hung up
"These researchers don't want to see the whole baby," says Life Dynamics'
Dzintra Tuttle. "That's gruesome. That would freak them out. They think
they're about higher medicine that is serving a cause--not about dead
babies." On their video, Life Dynamics asks Kelly if the abortionist at the
clinic ever deliberately altered procedure to procure tissue. "Yes," she
replies. "All the limbs, the arms, the head, the chest cavity were never
invaded. They were all completely intact. Sometimes, the fetus appeared to
be dead, but when you'd open up the chest cavity you'd see the heart
The clinic used the partial-birth abortion technique for later
pregnancies: the doctor grasps hold of a fetus leg with tongs and pulls the
entire baby, except for the head, feet-first and face down out of the
mother. Then he punctures the base of the skull with scissors, inserts a
cannula to suck out the brain, and slides the head out. It is a three-day
procedure requiring that women be inserted with laminaria, seaweed cervix
Were women ever coerced into the procedure? Kelly says that sometimes,
before the final surgery, on the third day "you could blatantly hear them in
the halls saying they wanted to change their minds." But they were sedated,
in what Kelly calls a "Nyquil nap," which made it difficult to protest.
Sometimes the IV was turned up; in any case, the woman always had the
Routinely, the women would go into labour before the final surgery. "They
were coming out alive," says Kelly. Aside from the incident with the twins,
she says, there were three to four live births in a typical two-week period.
"The doctor would either break the neck or take a pair of tongs and
basically beat the fetus until it was dead."
As incredible as Kelly's testimony seems, other sources corroborate it.
Eric Harrah worked in the abortion industry for 11 years, leaving it 18
months ago. He managed and owned or partially owned 26 American abortion
clinics. Live births, he tells Life Dynamics, were the industry's "dirty
little secret." "It was always very disturbing, so the doctor would try to
conceal it from the rest of the staff," he says, but one incident is hard
for him to forget.
The woman in question was 26 weeks pregnant. She had laminaria inserted,
signed paperwork agreeing not to call anyone but the clinic if she went into
labour, and was sent to a motel up the road to await her procedure the next
day. She was brought to the clinic in the middle of the night, carrying her
fetus in a white cotton hotel towel.
"I was in the scrub room when I saw the towel move," says Mr. Harrah. "A
nurse said, 'Eric, you're just tired. It's three in the morning.' Then we
both looked and a little baby's arm raised up out of the towel and was
moving like a newborn baby. I screamed and ran out. The doctor came in and
closed the door and when we went back in to process the baby out of the
clinic into the lab, [the baby] had a puncture wound in his chest."
Evidence of the demand for late-term fetal tissue can be corroborated
apart from Life Dynamics. The National Institutes for Health operate a
Laboratory for Embryology at the University of Washington in Seattle that
runs a 24-hour collection service at abortion clinics. An advertisement in
the March 1994 NIH Guide still appears on the Internet, offering to "supply
tissue from normal or abnormal embryos and fetuses of desired gestational
ages between 40 days and term. Specimens are obtained within minutes of
passage... and immediately processed according to the requirements of
individual investigators...Specimens are shipped by overnight express."
Mark Crutcher, president of Life Dynamics, is now convinced that the
research demand for intact late-term fetal organs is the hidden truth behind
the partial-birth abortion controversy. In state after state this year,
partial-birth abortion bans written into state laws by legislatures have
been vehemently opposed by pro-choice groups and overturned by courts. "Why
do pro-aborts fight so hard to keep it?" asks Mr. Crutcher. "All it says is
you can't kill them by this method. It doesn't prevent them from getting any
other kind of abortion. This is about maximizing profits. First, you sell
the woman an abortion. Then you turn around and sell the dead baby you take
out of her. But you have to take it out whole or you don't have anything to
"It has nothing to do with the woman's right to choose or with protecting
the sanctity of the right of abortion," agrees Mr. Harrah. "It has
everything to do with protecting the sanctity of the fullness of the
abortionist'swallet. This is the only type of abortion procedure that
doesn't cost them to get rid of the dead baby. They actually make money."
Apart from abortionists and the wholesalers who traffic in aborted baby
parts (see story, page 34), who stands to profit from this fetal research?
Of the pharmaceutical companies sponsoring it, Mr. Crutcher says: "I don't
think there's one that's not involved." He surmises they are investing in
the future. Baby boomers are aging, and about to start falling apart. A
practical treatment for Parkinson's would be lucrative. "Just look at
Viagra," says Mr. Crutcher. (In Canada alone, the little blue impotence pill
sold 20,600 prescriptions worth $1.55 million in its first week on the
market) "That's just a hint of the fortunes awaiting drug manufacturers
pandering to boomers' quest for youth. They're the wealthiest generation in
the history of the world. And also the most narcissistic. They want to live
And fetuses are the new human scrap heap. Says Mr. Crutcher: "We're going
to kill the very young to treat the very old." Perhaps, but Mrs. Rini offers
hope of a wrinkle in the plan. "Does the fetus' aliveness, which is coveted
by researchers, and ability to sponsor life for others, ironically but
actually prove the fetus' own life?" she writes. She cites ethicist Paul
Ramsey: "Far from abortion settling the question of fetal research, it could
be that sober reflection on the use of the human fetus in research could
unsettle the abortion issue."
Steven Bamforth is a geneticist who operates a fetal tissue repository at
the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton. He and his researchers have
the difficult task of sorting through 10- to 12-week fetal remains from
abortion clinics in Edmonton and Winnipeg, dissecting recognizable body
parts for hearts and eyes, extracting messenger ribonucleic acid and
shipping it to other geneticists at the Universities of Toronto and British
Columbia. "The humanity is always before us," Dr. Bamforth told this
magazine last year. "If society said this research is not acceptable, of
course, we would immediately desist. It's not something that I do happily."