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AG Nessel Joins Coalition Pushing for Scientific, Medical Research Funding During COVID-19 Pandemic

LANSING — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 22 attorneys general in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and its National Institutes of Health (NIH) urging them to reject recent recommendations made by the Trump administration’s NIH Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board (Board).

The Board’s recommendation would withhold federal funding for fetal tissue research grant proposals, putting limits on research into possible treatments and therapies for various health conditions, including COVID-19. The recommendation comes after a two-year campaign by the Trump administration to block federally funded research using fetal tissue as well as an executive order to ban the research.

"While leading scientists are encouraging the use of fetal tissue research to develop treatments for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration is attempting to withhold critical funding for this important work,” Nessel said. “Our country has been hard hit by this pandemic – this recommendation by the Board would effectively hinder advances in finding a treatment for this devastating virus. President Trump himself was treated for COVID with Remdesivir, a drug developed through fetal tissue research – why shouldn’t every American have that opportunity?”

Fetal tissue has been an essential part of scientific and medical advances that have saved millions of lives in the United States and across the globe. Fetal tissue was used in the research that led to the vaccines for poliovirus, rubella, measles and rabies. It remains a crucial part of vital biomedical research.

In its letter, the coalition argues the Board was not fairly balanced in terms of viewpoint, as two-thirds of its members are on record opposing abortion, fetal tissue or both. The Board’s proceedings also lacked transparency. All of its meetings were in closed session except for one virtual meeting held for less than an hour. The attorneys general urge NIH Director Francis S. Collins and HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II to use their authority to reject the Board’s recommendations and maintain federal funding for research projects using fetal tissue that have already been recommended for funding.

In sending the letter, Attorney General Nessel joins the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the letter is available here.