Human Exceptionalism

The New Decadence: Fetal Cells Used in Beauty Treatment

As regular readers of SHS know, I worry a lot about the growing trend to instrumentalize human life and use it as a natural resource.  Thus, I have opposed federal funding of ESCR, human cloning, redefining death for organ harvesting purposes, fetal farming, etc.

I think there is a real ethical difference between destroying human life for the purpose of instrumentalization, and using already cadaver tissue instrumentally, as in organ transplantation.  I think there is also a difference between using embryonic or fetal tissues in medical research or treatments taken from a human life–destroyed for that purpose–and using fetal cadaver tissues either from miscarriage or abortion when the destruction was not procured for the purpose of experimentation or instrumental use.

But this story gives me real pause.  A San Francisco company, called Neocutis, Inc., used skin tissue from an aborted fetus to create beauty products. From the story:

In a statement released Friday, in response to a wave of condemnation from pro-life and religious blogs, Neocutis defended the use of its trademarked ingredient, Processed Skin Cell Proteins, or PSP, arguing that the fetal cell line was harvested in a responsible, ethical manner for use in treating severe dermatological injuries.

The company compared its situation to that of researchers who used fetal kidney cells to develop the polio vaccine. “Our view – which is shared by most medical professionals and patients – is that the limited, prudent and responsible use of donated fetal skin tissue can continue to ease suffering, speed healing, save lives and improve the well-being of many patients around the globe,” said the statement.

No, I think not.  Fetal tissue does not continue to be used in vaccines, as I understand it.  It is sometimes used in the testing and development.  Moreover, the company sells its products as still using fetal products:

The firm’s online entries say the products were “inspired by fetal skin’s unique properties” and that the technology “uses cultured fetal skin cells to obtain an optimal, naturally balanced mixture of skin nutrients.”

“Neocutis means, literally, new skin. And who wouldn’t like to turn back time to create flawless baby skin again?” says one ad.

I think some of the reactions quoted in the article are over the top. This isn’t akin to using human skin in lamps taken from the death camp victims. On the other hand, these cell biproducts are not being used medically to save lives or ease suffering. Rather, it is about the shallow matter of smooth skin about which the fetal use is touted as a selling point. And in that “next step,” I think, is true decadence.

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