August 3, 2015

The Update Desk: Medical Progress

The United States Senate plans to vote later today to defund Planned Parenthood. The reason for the vote, as I noted yesterday, is a series of distasteful, distastefully edited videos taken by a group calling themselves the Center for Medical Progress, which solely defines 'medical progress' as 'defunding Planned Parenthood.'

In addition to the needless and misguided vote to cut funding to an organization that provided non-abortion contraceptive services to almost 3.6 million people in the past two years, performs over four million tests and treatments for STDs annually (also not abortions), and provides hundreds of thousands of cancer screenings (again, none of which are abortions), there will likely be more than enough committee investigations to keep anti-abortion and pro-birth supporters giddy with delight as we work towards a federal budget battle, as well as long into the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Take the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They announced their investigation on July 15th. More than a little ironically, this is the same committee that brought us the the 21st Century Cures Act (HR 6), which is designed to
  • remove barriers to increased research collaboration
  • incorporate patient perspectives in the drug development and regulatory approval process
  • measure success and identify diseases earlier through personalized medicine
  • modernize clinical trials
  • remove regulatory uncertainty (the R's favorite buzzword) for the development of new medical apps
  • provide new incentives for the development of drugs for rare diseases
  • help the 'entire biomedical ecosystem' coordinate more efficiently
  • invest in 21st century science and next generation investigators
  • keep and create jobs, and
  • obey the Girl Scout laws (er, I mean, reduce the deficit)

What's the relevance of this bill? There's no mention of fetal tissue in the language, and no reference to Planned Parenthood. But front and center for Section 2 in the bill's section by section summary we find this:
An example of these long-term savings can be observed through the creation of the polio vaccine through American innovation in the 1950s. When the menace of polio peaked in the early 1950s more than 20,000 American contracted the disease and some 3,000 died from it in one year. However, in the early 1950s a vaccine for polio was discovered. Polio has been eliminated in the United States though the widespread adoption of a safe and effective vaccine. Some estimate that this vaccine has saved the United States $800 billion since 1955. 
A couple of days after HR 6 was passed with bipartisan support, CNN helped explain how fetal tissue is used in research, and noted
One of the earliest advances with fetal tissue was to use fetal kidney cells to create the first poliovirus vaccines, which are now estimated to save 550,000 lives worldwide each year. In the early days of making the vaccine, researchers infected fetal kidney cells in Petri dishes to produce a large amount of virus they could then harvest, purify, and use to vaccinate people. 
Another section of the bill requires creation of a national pediatric research network, to "pool resources and coordinate activities related to pediatric rare diseases or birth defects." Hmm. Fetal tissue is used in researching gestational development and congenital anomalies (birth defects)?

The 21st Century Cures also includes funding for the National Institutes of Health for fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018. But wait --
The National Institutes of Health spent $76 million on research using fetal tissue in 2014 with grants to more than 50 universities, including Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, and the University of California at Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.  It expects to spend the same amount in 2015 and 2016. 

What a wicked web they weave, our elected officials.

On the one hand they're all for this great science that allows us to save lives and dollars, to reward capitalists and drug companies, to lessen the impact of regulators and cut red tape, to create jobs, to reduce the deficit and to make America great again, with certainty.

And on the other hand, they're so against the act of collecting life-saving fetal tissue that they're going to investigate and/or vote to defund an organization that, in addition to providing critical primary care services for countless women, is also sometimes a source for the tissue used in the critical research that helps save lives, dollars and the American way?

I can't help thinking they'd really just be happier believing that fetal tissue, like babies, was collected and delivered by storks.