top of page

Women, fetuses and stem cell science: a pro-choice dilemma

A pro-choice dilemma

Indeed, tissue derived from an aborted fetus was used by John Gearhart to create one of the first stem cell lines, and stem cell therapeutic products derived from an aborted fetus are closer to the market than products derived from other human sources including pre-implantation embryos. However, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) takes the opposite view to that of scientists. In Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person), published in December 2008, it ruled that only tissue of miscarried fetuses are eligible for use in research.

Catholic Church approval

What women say about fetuses

Neither scientists nor the Catholic Church take into account women’s views on fetuses which, according to my research are complex and at odds with theirs. British women who suffer miscarriage, especially if it happens when the pregnancy is relatively advanced, said they want the fetus to be treated and disposed of with respect, which might involve burial or cremation, a demand that has been acknowledged following a campaign. Some said they would be prepared to agree to the fetus being used in research which could have some bearing on causes and prevention of miscarriage. None said they would be willing to agree to the miscarried fetus being used in non-therapeutic research, such as stem cell research.

Early emotional attachment

How should women be involved?


N Pfeffer, J Kent (2006) Consent to the use of aborted fetuses in stem cell research and therapies. Clinical Ethics 1: 216-218

J Kent, N Pfeffer (2006) Regulating the collection and use of fetal stem cells: They currently lie in a regulatory limbo, British Medical Journal 332:866-867.

N Pfeffer, J Kent (2007) Framing women, framing fetuses: how Britain regulates arrangements for the collection and use of aborted fetuses in stem cell research and therapies, BioSocieties 2, (4): 429-447

N Pfeffer (2008) What British women say matters to them about donating an aborted fetus to stem cell research, Social Science & Medicine, 66:2544-2554.

N Pfeffer (2009) How work transforms an ‘unwanted pregnancy’ into a source of stem cells’ Sociology of Health & Illness, on-line early view.


bottom of page