Attorney General Becerra Leads Multistate Coalition Pushing for Scientific and Medical Research Funding During COVID-19 Pandemic

Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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Coalition argues the Trump Administration’s limits on fetal tissue research put limits on research into treatments for COVID-19

SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today led a coalition of 22 attorneys general in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its National Institutes of Health (NIH) urging them to reject recent recommendations made by the Trump Administration’s NIH Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board (Board). The Board’s recommendation would withhold federal funding for fetal tissue research grant proposals, putting limits on research into possible treatments and therapies for various health conditions, including COVID-19. The recommendation comes after a two-year campaign by the Trump Administration to block federally funded research using fetal tissue as well as an Executive Order to ban the research.

“President Trump touted the benefits of Regeneron, which he was treated with when he was hospitalized. What he failed to mention is that Regeneron was tested in cells derived from fetal tissue — the same research he and his Administration suspended federal funding for nationwide,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Continued efforts to block funding for future fetal tissue research would put unnecessary and ill-advised limits on the scientific research we need now to combat COVID-19 and ensure all Americans have access to the best, most innovative treatment for the virus.”

Fetal tissue has been an essential part of scientific and medical advances that have saved millions of lives in the United States and across the globe. Fetal tissue was used in the research that led to the poliovirus, rubella, measles, and rabies vaccines. It remains a crucial part of vital biomedical research.

In their letter, the coalition argues the Board was not fairly balanced in terms of viewpoint, as two-thirds of its members are on record opposing abortion, fetal tissue, or both. The Board’s proceedings also lacked transparency. All of its meetings were in closed session except for one virtual meeting held for less than an hour. The attorneys general urge NIH Director Francis S. Collins and HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II to use their authority to reject the Board’s recommendations and maintain federal funding for research projects that have already been recommended for funding using fetal tissue. 

In March, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of 15 attorneys general in sending a letter to President Trump and HHS calling on the Administration to end its research ban on fetal tissue to aid the nation’s medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In sending the letter, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the letter is available here.

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