In 1980, the National Disease Research Interchange (NDRI) was established “to procure human tissues and organs for bio-medical research.” Operating from a central facility at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia, the NDRI processes tissue shipped to it from across the U.S., and then delivers “fresh tissue to researchers.”
A variety of sources supply human tissue to the NDRI, including “seven clinics that supply fetal tissue.” At present, over 250 biomedical researchers in the United States receive tissue from the NDRI. It is “enthusiastic about the gradual increase in the total number of researchers using the human model.”
The NDRI functions primarily as a processing (and not a banking center) for tissue. It has been described as “an interchange like a revolving door: tissue and organs are donated and then enter the system, where they are processed, boxed and delivered to the researchers.”
Because of time constraints on best viability for human tissue, the NDRI often ships its cargo by aircraft or overnight delivery service.
The operations of NDRI are described in the first chapter of the collected papers of the Sansum Medical Research Symposium held in California in June 1986. The Symposium was paid for by Ray and Rovert Kroc Leadership & Visiting Scholars Endowment Fund, originally created by the McDonald Hamburger chain. This led Dr. Bernard Nathanson in a February 1988 Washington Press Conference to charge that the Fund was implicated in obnoxious medical research.
Spokesmen for the McDonald Corporation have acknowledged that the Fund paid for the Symposium. But they have explained that the money used for the Symposium came from left-over money of a grant to an independent lectureship.
Be that as it may, the fact is that the Kroc Endowment has lent its name and considerable financial support to a meeting of medical researchers whose discussions and papers, beneath the impersonal language of scientific discourse, hid an odious industry – the systematic harvesting of tissue from the victims of late abortions.
The authors of the Symposium’s collected papers devote virtually the whole of their first chapter to what they euphemistically describe as “the procurement process” of human tissue. Les than half-a-page is given over to consideration of “an ethical dilemma.” The authors only raise-and dismiss two ethical problems. The first: A researcher “may not interfere with a woman’s decision to have an abortion but may intervene to retrieve the aborted tissue.” The second: “A woman should have the right to decide whether or not her aborted tissue may be used for research.”
Their summary of the general purpose and scope of the NDRI concluded, the authors then focus on the “remarkable network for the procurement of fetal pancreatic tissue in which the NDRI has made a major contribution.”
Operation of the fetal pancreas network began in February 1984. “Fetal tissues are retrieved from second trimester abortions when the D&E (dilation and extraction) procedure is used.” In other words, the pancreatic tissue of aborted babies four to six months old is the exclusive source of supply for researchers.
The authors express their satisfaction with the fetal pancreas procurement network. It “as produced enough tissue to support all of NDRI fetal pancreas researchers.” Although a million-and-a-half abortions are performed yearly in the United States, the authors are concerned that this enormous reservoir of tissue is still largely inaccessible to the growing number of investigators since “very few of the clinics are willing to deliver the fetus for research.” For this reason, the NDRI is actively “working to network more sources of fetal tissue.”
A macabre, alien world emerges from this description of the work of the NDRI. It is a world over which the banality of evil hangs like a dark cloud, blotting out the light of reason. In this twilight world men and women of science, supremely confident of their technological power over human life, harvest the ‘products of conception.’ In this world the alleviation of disease and suffering is at the service of the destruction of countless human lives.
Voices have been raised in protest against this frightening abuse and exploitation of the fetus. “Our fear,” declares Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Minnesota, “is that somehow reproduction has shifted away from an act that creates a family into an arena in which money, profit and benefit for others starts to enter.”
Feminist author Gena Corea expresses the larger fear that “women will…become fetal factories.” Doctors and ethicists propose banning the sale of fetal tissue worldwide ( an idea which would leave an organization like the NDRI untouched, since its trafficking in fetal tissue is a non-profit service to researchers).
Dr. John Wilke, president of the U.S. National Right to Life Committee focuses on the real abuse: “Killing the baby in the first place.” It is abortion itself, the deliberate repudiation of the human and civil rights of the pre-born child, which gives rise to the insidious evil or organizations like the NDRI. As our society increasingly accepts it and as the state more vehemently propagates it, so abortion on demand will implicate more and more of our institutions in its evil.