The crux of the recent Planned Parenthood controversy is about fetal-tissue research: the health care organization provides tissues, at no profit, to medical researchers. It’s an important area of science that has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades, but which Republicans have now rebranded as “harvesting organs from unborn children.”
Among the group’s critics is Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. That wouldn’t be especially interesting, were it not for the fact that Carson “previously did research using human fetal tissue.” BuzzFeed had the scoop this morning:
Late on Wednesday, an OB/GYN and science writer Jen Gunter revealed on her blog a 1992 study in which Carson and three other colleagues used tissue from the fetal brain and nasal cavity to better understand the development of the chambers (or “ventricles”) of the brain. These tissues “were obtained from two fetuses aborted at the ninth and 17th week of gestation,” the paper says.
Just so we’re clear, no one has accused Carson of doing anything illegal or medically unethical. On the contrary, the fetal-tissue research Carson conducted is rather common, and up until very recently, uncontroversial.
But as a Republican presidential candidate, Carson appears to have criticized the same scientific research he personally participated in. What’s more, as BuzzFeed’s report added, Carson told Fox News last month that a fetus at 17 weeks “is a human being.” The fact that the GOP candidate used tissues from an aborted 17-week fetus makes his position that much more complex.
The good news is, Carson has a response. The bad news is, it’s not particularly persuasive.
The right-wing physician talked to the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel this morning, and this is what Carson has come up with as a defense.
“You have to look at the intent,” Carson said before beginning a campaign swing through New Hampshire. “To willfully ignore evidence that you have for some ideological reason is wrong. If you’re killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it.”
I kept looking for the part of the response in which Carson explained the difference between his fetal-tissue research and the work Planned Parenthood does to facilitate fetal-tissue research, but there was such no explanation. Sarah Kliff added, “Carson seems to indicate that his research was ‘keeping a record’ of fetal tissue, although that doesn’t make much sense: His work used fetal tissue in service of a research goal.”
Also note, just last week, Carson told msnbc he doesn’t know whether fetal-tissue research should be banned. This morning, he told Weigel that the research isn’t immoral and should continue.
The Post’s report added, “Asked if Planned Parenthood should cease its fetal tissue distribution, Carson demurred.”
MSNBC’s Irin Carmon had more on the controversy this morning.
Disclosure: My wife works at Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to the controversial videos.