The National Institutes of Health plan to look into charges by a consumer watchdog group that some human tissue used in biomedical research is being obtained from fetuses that are not dead.
The Washington-based Foundation on Economic Trends charged last week that the federally funded National Disease Research Interchange, which supplies fetal tissue for research, may be violating a law that specifies what fetuses can be used.
The foundation, a persistent critic of genetic experimentations, petitioned the NIH to investigate the sources of fetal material used in research and the records of the clearinghouse that obtains the tissue.
The foundation said the non-profit NDRI, located in Philadelphia, may be violating a federal law that prohibits experimentation on potentially live or viable fetuses.
Lee Ducat, president of NDRI, which was set up by the NIH to act as a clearinghouse for human tissues used in research, denied the allegations. "We are computer-based and our record-keeping is excellent. We require death documentation and a lot more information, and it's all in order."
But Jeremy Rifkin, head of the watchdog organization, claimed that he has evidence that NDRI is getting fetal tissue from hospitals that do not perform all the tests possible to determine if aborted fetuses are dead before removing organs and other materials.
Rifkin said he has information indicating that some doctors, in order to ensure that the desired tissue is removed as soon as possible, do not take extra time to ascertain fetal death.
Charles R. McCarthy, director of the NIH's Office for Protection from Research Risks, said the agency will investigate the charges and look into what efforts NDRI takes to see that suppliers of fetal material comply with state laws, which have jurisdiction over dead adults or fetuses.