Congress Subpoenas Medical Organizations

A US House of Representatives panel has requested information from several research bodies and abortion providers as part of a sweeping investigation of fetal tissue research.

Apr 5, 2016
Bob Grant

WIKIMEDIA, JOHANNES JANSSONA Congressional panel tasked with investigating the issue of fetal tissue research has issued a dozen subpoenas to researchers, medical organizations, and abortion providers. The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was launched in the wake of the now-infamous undercover videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to illegally profit from the sale of fetal tissues destined for research. The videographers of that footage were recently indicted in Texas, but the House of Representatives investigation is ramping up—with legislators on the panel compiling lists of researchers in the fetal tissue research field—much to the dismay of research advocates and abortion rights groups.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists was one of the loudest voices descrying the investigation. “Unfortunately, some state and federal politicians are working hard to obstruct—or even criminalize—fetal tissue research, limiting the ability of scientists and researchers to develop new vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat disease,” the group said in a statement posted last week (March 30).

The panel’s subpoenas even included individual faculty members at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque, according to Science. UNM told Science that it has provided the panel with roughly 3,000 pages of documents, but refused to reveal the identities of faculty and students involved in the research. And STAT News reported last week (March 31) that one of the subpoenaed institutions, Ganogen, was founded by Vanderbilt University Medical Center surgical resident Eugene Gu, who studies how to grow transplanted fetal organs in lab animals so they can be used in human transplants. “We consider abortions to be the same type of tragedy that a car accident or traffic fatality is,” Gu told STAT.

He further criticized the nature of the investigation. “It’s so over-broad it’s kind of ridiculous,” Gu told The Guardian. “The subpoena’s asking for not just what we did in terms of research, but every single piece of office equipment we used. What does that include? The office chairs I bought? The toilet paper I used?”

“The Select Investigative Panel is working in a thoughtful and thorough manner to find the facts about what exactly is going on at these abortion businesses and procurement organizations,” said Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who leads the House panel. “Unfortunately, some of these organizations have so redacted documents—even after being subpoenaed—that it is impossible for us to get the complete picture of what is actually going on.”

But critics on the panel say that the investigation amounts to nothing more than a politically motivated witch hunt. “Once again, Chair Blackburn is using congressional authority to pursue baseless, inflammatory claims generated by anti-abortion extremists,” Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), senior Democrat on the committee, told The New York Times. “Not one of the entities contacted by the panel has expressed concern about ‘letting all the facts come out.’ Their—and the Democrats’—concern is the safety of their researchers, students, doctors, and clinic personnel. Chair Blackburn has refused to explain why she needs a database of names.”

Clarification (April 5): The article has been updated to emphasize that Eugene Gu is a surgical resident at Vaderbilt University Medical Center.