Washington, D.C. (Sep. 14, 2020)—Today, House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., and Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Ranking Member Patty Murray sent a letter urging Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to halt efforts to block federally funded research using fetal tissue and to reject the baseless, ideologically driven recommendations made by the Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board.

“For more than a year, the Trump Administration’s restrictive policy has impeded critical research and promising therapies for a number of diseases—including for coronavirus,” the Members wrote to Azar.  “Your duty as Secretary is to safeguard HHS’s commitment to fostering sustained advances in the biomedical research underlying medicine and public health—even when doing so defies the White House’s political objectives.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform also released new internal documents indicating that Trump Administration efforts to block federal funding for medical research are based in ideological objections, not evaluation of the scientific merit of such projects.

The new documents show that political appointees—including Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir and Senior Counselor to the Secretary Paula Stannard—pursued these fetal tissue restrictions to advance an ideological agenda at the behest of the White House, despite HHS’s own assessment of the scientific value of fetal tissue research. 

  • In an email on October 18, 2018, Ms. Stannard indicated that she received “a document on the scientific advances/uses of the humanized mice associated” with a fetal tissue research contract from a career official at NIH.
  • In an email on May 4, 2019, NIH career staff referenced “HFT [human fetal tissue] examples requested by Brett [Giroir],” and an attached document detailing the clinical value of federally funded fetal tissue research for six diseases and conditions.
  • In an email on May 20, 2019, Admiral Giroir referenced a “high priority request originating from EOP [Executive Office of the President]” for information regarding federally funded intramural and extramural fetal tissue research projects and contracts.
  • In an email on July 23, 2019, Ms. Stannard indicated that she had shared a draft version of guidance regarding fetal tissue research restrictions with the White House Domestic Policy Council and the White House Counsel’s Office.

On August 18, 2020, the Advisory Board, which was created to restrict critical, potentially life-saving research using fetal tissue, issued a report recommending that Secretary Azar reject funding for 13 of the 14 fetal tissue research grant proposals it was tasked with reviewing—despite each of these proposals having already undergone a rigorous, two-stage scientific review process and being deemed worthy of funding through the National Institutes of Health. 

The scientific community raised serious concerns that the Board’s membership—which was disclosed publicly only hours before it convened—was stacked with members whose views on fetal tissue research are based in extreme ideology and are contrary to scientific consensus about the value of fetal tissue research.  One researcher described the Board as “a ban disguised as an ethics committee.”

On April 16, 2020, Chairwoman Maloney, Chairman Pallone, and Ranking Member Murray sent a letter urging Azar to immediately reverse restrictions on the use of fetal tissue in any federally funded coronavirus-related research and requesting a briefing on the impact of these restrictions on the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.  HHS declined to provide this briefing and instead proceeded to implement these harmful restrictions on biomedical research.

Click here to read today’s letter.