Thursday, July 16, 2015

National Controversy Snares California Stem Cell Firm; Congressional Investigation, Presidential Politics Involved

A California stem cell firm is enmeshed today in a national flap linked to abortion, buying and selling body parts and the 2016 presidential race.

The firm is StemExpress of Placerville, just east of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It was mentioned in a YouTube video that was recorded secretly by abortion foes who were posing undercover in a discussion with Planned Parenthood officials.

The video has been viewed nearly two million times as of this writing. The New York Times, the Washington Post and other major news outlets are covering the story.  It has triggered virulent headlines on anti-abortion and conservative web sites.

One headline on said in red type,
“Buying And Selling Aborted Fetus Body Parts For $30 To $100? ‘Stem Express’ Website Down After Undercover Video Exposes Planned Parenthood” 
StemExpress provides researchers with “high-quality stem cells they need for their research,” an employee of the firm told the California Stem Cell Report in an email last May.  The firm also supplies “human blood, tissue products, primary cells and other clinical specimens to biomedical researchers around the world,”

Reporter Sammy Caiola wrote today in The Sacramento Bee,
“The eight-minute undercover clip, which has garnered over 1 million views (as of yesterday) and inspired the popular anti-abortion Twitter hashtag ‘#PPSellsBabyParts,’ is edited in a way to suggest Planned Parenthood and its affiliates profit from fetal tissue and organs procured during abortions, which is against federal law.”
Caiola said that the video contains “a supposed image of the StemExpress website (that) shows an order form, where users can designate type of order, number of specimens, tissue type and shipping options.”

Caiola continued,
“In a statement released by Planned Parenthood, spokesman Eric Ferrero said that while many women who undergo abortions choose to donate fetal tissue to scientific research, there is no financial benefit for either the patient or Planned Parenthood. Sometimes, Planned Parenthood is reimbursed for the cost of transporting the tissue to labs, he said.
“’We do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does – with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards,’ Ferrero said.” 
The California Stem Cell Report this morning asked StemExpress for comment and will carry it verbatim when it is received. However, all of the news stories so far say that the company has not responded to similar requests.

(The company responded -- see here for full text -- just as this item was posted and said,
"StemExpress prides itself on complying with all laws. Our compliance protocols and donor consents have been established by an FDA-compliant Independent Review Board. Written donor consent is required for any donation, including bone marrow, tissue of all types or blood."
(The company also said,
"Everything we provide is solely at the request of the nation’s and the world’s great research institutions. Producing the isolated cells researchers need from donated tissues requires the development of complicated, often unique, research techniques using millions of dollars of scientific equipment. We are hopeful the events of the last few days will not diminish our efforts to support the research community or hinder our partners from continuing their important work.")
The company was founded in 2010 by Cate Dyer.  Inc. magazine ranked the firm 363rd on Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing private companies in America last year.

Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post wrote that GOP presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Bobby Jindal all have spoken out on the controversy.

In Congress, Republican leaders have ordered an investigation. Jackie Calmes and Nicholas St. Fleuer of the New York Times said,
"House Republican leaders on Wednesday announced a congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood, a day after anti-abortion activists released a video of an unsuspecting official from the organization explaining how it provides fetal tissue to researchers.
 "Echoing the activists’ allegation, Speaker John A. Boehner and other top Republicans suggested that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal parts, which is illegal if done for profit. But Planned Parenthood said that while it charges for expenses such as processing and transporting, it makes no money from the fetal tissue donated by women who get abortions. The official shown in the video repeatedly says something similar to two activists posing as biotechnology representatives."

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