Pitt Fetal Tissue Research: Report Leaves Unanswered Questions

by Judith Evans



The images were horrifying: human infant hairs growing out of rodents’ backs in a University of Pittsburgh laboratory. In the spring of 2021, public outcry led to the announcement of an “independent investigation” of Pitt’s fetal tissue research practices, to be carried out by the law firm Hyman, Phelps, and McNamara.

After the release of the December 2021 report, questions remain unanswered about issues including conflicts of interest, incomplete consent forms, organs collected from live aborted babies, and the credibility of the report itself.

Limited Scope of Investigation

One of the most troubling aspects of the report is the limited scope of the report itself. HPM chose not to investigate allegations against UPMC, reasoning that Pitt does not have regulatory control over UPMC. HPM instead focused on activities of Pitt Biospecimen Core (PCB), which collects and distributes fetal tissue. The irony here is that PBC has laboratories within Magee Women’s Hospital and other UPMC facilities.

UPMC is the site of barbaric practices. By failing to investigate UPMC, HPM has therefore ignored the most serious and horrific allegations. Marie Osburn of The Federalist notes that the infamous Pitt study that showed human hairs growing on rodents’ backs credited Magee Women’s Hospital as the source of fetal tissue but that the HMP report inexplicably changed the story and lists Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) as the source.

Conflict of Interest

HMP also sidestepped questions about conflicts of interest between Pitt and Planned Parenthood Western Pennsylvania. Reasoning that Pitt has not broken any laws, HMP failed to examine the potential for abuse in the relationship between the two institutions.

For example, Dr. Beatrice Chen is vice-chair of the Pitt Institutional Review Board (IRB), which reviews applications for research on human subjects. Osburn notes in The Federalist, Dr. Chen also happens to be medical director of Planned Parenthood Western Pennsylvania. While her relationship to both institutions may not be illegal, it raises serious questions about accountability.

Incomplete Consent Forms

The HMP report does shed light on the issue of the fetal tissue consent protocol. According to the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, physicians must wait until 24 hours after the consent to abortion before asking the woman for written consent to donate the aborted baby’s tissue. HMP stated that they found unsigned consent forms, raising questions about whether Pitt followed consent requirements.

Instead of exploring possible violations of the consent protocol, HMP referred to the unsigned forms as a “primarily technical” matter.

Tissue Harvested While Fetal Heart Still Beating

Incredibly, the HMP report does not examine one of the most urgent questions about fetal tissue research: are organs and tissue being harvested from aborted babies while they are still alive? In August, 2021, Judicial Watch and the Center for Medical Progress obtained public documents from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in which Pitt acknowledges that kidneys and other fetal organs are removed while they are receiving blood flow.

David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, noted that Pitt had essentially admitted to harvesting organs from babies while they were still alive. He went on to state that


Pitt and the Planned Parenthood abortion providers responsible for its ‘research’ abortions are allowing babies, some of the age of viability, to be delivered alive, and then killing them by cutting their kidneys out.

The University of Pittsburgh also stated a goal that 50 percent of the fetal tissue used for research should be from non-white babies. Judicial Watch noted the racist overtones to this goal:


The proposal suggests that the “subjects” be diverse because Pittsburgh is diverse; the U.S. Census Bureau shows the city of Pittsburgh is close to 70% white.

Unanswered Questions

The Pennsylvania Family Institute drafted 10 questions that they had hoped the HMP investigation would answer. The questions refer to urgent issues such as conflicts of interest and fetuses that are alive after abortions. The Pennsylvania Family Institute states that even after the HMP investigation, the questions still have not been completely answered.

The HMP investigation avoided the most urgent issues and wasted precious time. Meanwhile, unborn babies and their mothers deserve better from educational and health care institutions.


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