The sanctity of unborn life meshes with the limitations of mentally challenged adults

A lab technician separates cells from umbilical cord blood at StemExpress in Placerville, California, May 5, 2016.

A lab technician separates cells from umbilical cord blood at StemExpress in Placerville, California, May 5, 2016. (Max Whittaker / For The Washington Post)

By Danielle Paquette

PLACERVILLE, CALIF. — StemExpress, a tiny biomedical company in this foothill town east of Sacramento, has emerged at the heart of the contentious national debate over abortion and the scientific use of human fetal tissue. FBI agents say its floor-to-ceiling windows are security hazards, a potential line of sight for snipers. The backdrop of pine trees and hills provides cover, employees say, to strangers who crouch with cameras.

Inside, Melanie Rose, a laboratory technician, knows anyone could be watching. One recent May morning, she opened a foam box with fetal tissue packed in ice — a donation for medical research.

Rose, who is working toward a master’s degree in stem cell treatment, is one of 24 employees here thrust into view after antiabortion activists released a series of videos last year.

The videos shed light on an uncomfortable aspect of a little-known industry. They targeted Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions and for a time sold fetal tissue to StemExpress. The tissue, which is in limited supply, is a vital component in stem cell research — a great hope for medical breakthroughs. StemExpress collects the tissue and extracts the stem cells to sell to researchers worldwide. Most of it is from adult sources — drawn from blood and bone marrow — but a small amount is from fetal tissue.

That work, with fetal tissue, has catapulted the small biotech firm out from under the radar. It is now the target of loiterers, protesters and death threats and the subject of a congressional inquiry.

At the heart of the issue appears to be whether the work is done for profit. The exchange of fetal tissue for research is legal, so long as neither party makes money in the deal.

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Note: Of course anyone with a functional brain must know there are costs in the acquisition, transport, extraction, storage, and sale of anything whether it’s potatoes, or human tissue. While some restrictions and controls over human genetic material are warranted, it must come from either government or a citizen-level-commons-management-group, not from corporate monopolies, or political Wingnuts.    -ed.-

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