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Babies being left behind

by David J. Malan 2-16-06

Imagine the outrageous outcry if our wounded troops in Iraq were being
ignored because well-intended people were arguing whether the Geneva
Convention requires our medics to try to save wounded suicide bombers of
unknown nationalities. No analogy is perfect, but something like that has
been happening in fetal research for the last quarter-century.

The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair included a premature baby clinic. But
few real advancements have been made since then. In just 65 years we
advanced from balloons to propeller planes to jets
to moon rockets. But the best thing doctors can do today, usually, is to
try to help preemies breathe before their lungs are ready, which often
causes blindness or brain damage.

In 1954 doctors tried placing younger preemies in fluid-filled
incubators, with umbilical cords attached to mechanical or artificial
placentas. At least one such project in the 60’s received funding from the
National Institutes of Health. Then the 1974 National Research Act created
a Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical Research.
The Commission wanted to restrict research involving nonviable fetuses, and
so they proposed a prohibition on NIH funding for anything
which artificially maintained vital functions. But artificial help was, and
still is permitted (per 45 CFR 46.209) for older preemies of uncertain
viability, when the research objective is survival.

Realizing that younger preemies could not survive without artificial
help, HEW Secretary Caspar Weinberger signed an “exception…to permit
research to develop new methods for enabling fetuses to survive to
viability.” (8-8-75, Federal Register 40, page 33528). But that exception
was deleted by Secretary Joseph Califano on January 11, 1978.

Reinstating that exception should be a top priority for families who
have lost premature babies or miscarriages or Tubal Pregnancies (TP); for
anyone who thinks they--or someone they know--might
someday want to have a baby; and for all people concerned about human life.

Here are four key questions:

ONE Who should control the research ?

TWO Where might the money come from ?

THREE What about risks to babies and mothers ?

FOUR Would such research encourage more abortions ?

Uncle Sam is a good answer to 1 & 2, and 3 & 4 would be minimized if
only TP were used.

ONE Using private funds to try to save lives is still legal.
But while many biomedical corporations and educational institutions would
welcome the prestige and profit that should eventually befall the inventors
of such a technological breakthrough, the fact that no one today is
exploring new incubators confirms that most organizations think any
scientific research which the government won’t fund must be too
controversial. Because all fetal research needs to be watched very closely,
the government should do the watching.

TWO .... especially since Uncle Sam could also do the funding.
Not by raising taxes but by using money already budgeted. In 1989 for
example, the National Institute of Child Health and
Development funded $60,263,597 for (378) “Projects Concerned with…Survival
of the Fetus.” These figures were obtained by one of my former Congressmen,
Jack Buechner (R-MO).

THREE We could try to develop new incubators by making a series
of small modifications to current incubators. But such an approach would be
like hoping to reach the Moon by making a series of small modifications to
propeller airplanes. Even if possible, that approach would expose some
borderline older preemies, who might have better chances of survival with
current technology, to the risks inherent with anything new.

If nothing else is done first, most TP rupture their mothers' fallopian
tubes about 9 weeks after conception. Such babies are nonviable because
they have no chance of survival with any current
procedures or technology. So what should we do? The imminent demise of
condemned death-row criminals does not make it OK to use them as guinea pigs
for every conceivable medical experiment. But the imminent demise of all
nonviable babies is totally different. We can, and should, try every
conceivable means of saving them---even things which seem to us like moon
rockets would have seemed to Orville and Wilbur---because the only “risk”
that any nonviable baby would face from any new incubator research is the
possibility of living longer !

Chances are pretty slim though for saving any post-rupture TP, or after
current pre-rupture removals. Many of the latter are extracted through thin
laparoscopic tubes, like most gall bladder
removals. Whether removed or allowed to rupture, TP have no current chances
of surviving, so some people don’t consider pre-rupture removals to be

But other people refuse to directly destroy any conception, even a tiny
nonviable baby who endangers her mother's life. So some mothers choose a
longer and more expensive procedure called salpingectomy. Instead of having
the stuck baby removed from their tube, these mothers have their doctor
remove the portion of their tube containing the stuck baby. That’s what’s
usually done after a rupture, and it also lessens the risk of having another
TP in that tube, the chances of which are often increased by laparoscopic
removal. But whatever each mother’s medical or moral reasons for choosing a
pre-rupture salpingectomy, it would definitely give doctors their best
chance to save a TP. And would pose no additional risk to mothers.

FOUR There were over 100,000 TP-related hospitalizations in
1992. So, even if only a fraction of mothers ever choose salpingectomies,
that would be more than enough “subjects” for research, and also enough
wanted babies to justify the program...even if whatever new incubators that
are invented don’t work all the time for borderline preemies, or if
logistical problems prevent getting some miscarriages to hospitals in time
to save them.

So even if abortion methods were diversified to include ways to remove
fetuses alive with no added cost or risk to pregnant women, there’s no need
to complicate the abortion issue by asking---or even allowing?---those women
to donate their unwanted fetuses for incubator research. No woman can
choose to have a TP, so abortions would not increase if incubator research
was restricted to TP.

Abortion will always be controversial, whatever any laws or judges say,
or do not say. But that controversy, and other religious, ethical, moral,
medical, sexual, reproductive, marital, or parental issues should not be
used, or allowed, to further delay important life-saving medical research
which would endanger no one.

Arguing about unwanted babies is always sad;
Ignoring wanted babies is almost sadistic.

In your question "Who would pay for the research?", your answer is "Uncle Sam". We all know that"Uncle Sam" was birthed out of U.S. Army recruiting posters in WWII representing the U.S. Government. Sadly, Americans have grown to accept the notion that "Uncle Sam" (our government) is an entity separate from the people and that he is a money source of limitless capacity. The truth is that "Uncle Sam" IS THE PEOPLE of the United States and the money he spends is our tax money.

I said all that to say this: The U.S. Government should not be seen as a bottomless money well. New grants from our government are probably not needed. I believe that the money needed for this research could be available if an inventory of government research grants could be taken that would expose the many programs that are of dubious value at best and were funded through the practice of "earmarking" the program so that it could not be removed from the legislation it was attached to. Such programs could and should be de-funded, no matter whose political toes are stepped on.

Also, I cannot help but believe that there is sufficient "private money" out there to fund such research without depending on the government's largess.


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