HHS watchdog launches fetal tissue investigation

Rand Paul, LGBT
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (IG) will investigate federal oversight of fetal tissue research in the wake of controversial undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood. 

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The investigation comes after Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulLawmaker seeks to investigate Obama's foreign tax compliance law Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears GOP senators hit FBI on early probe of NY bombing suspect MORE (R-Ky.) and 34 other Republican senators wrote to the IG in October requesting an investigation.

Paul, who is running for president, on Tuesday released a response from the IG announcing the investigation. 

The IG said it plans to review the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) grants for fetal tissue research and its monitoring to make sure that no laws are being broken. It also plans to review the small amount of fetal tissue research that the NIH conducts itself. 

“Our goal is to obtain information related to fetal tissue research grants, NIH’s monitoring procedures over third-party certifications and those related to the Department’s internal fetal tissue research, and any known violations of Federal requirements,” HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson wrote in the letter to Paul. 

The IG said it plans to interview HHS and NIH officials and gather documents related to federal oversight of fetal tissue research. 

Planned Parenthood is not directly being investigated because it does not conduct fetal tissue research. The undercover videos raised questions about whether the organization was illegally profiting by selling fetal tissue to be used in research by others. 

HHS said in August that it had confirmed institutions receiving its grants for fetal tissue research were following all applicable laws. In addition, HHS said that the nonprofit organizations that provide fetal tissue for NIH’s own research “have provided assurances to us that they are in compliance with applicable legal requirements.”

The group of Republican senators, though, said HHS’s statements were not sufficient, and asked the IG to investigate further. 

Planned Parenthood on Tuesday released a statement praising the investigation, noting that it had called for a blue-ribbon panel to review fetal tissue oversight in July, after the first videos emerged. 

“We applaud the HHS for this timely review of practices around fetal tissue donation — a review we’ve been requesting since this past July,” Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said in a statement. “This work is often critical to life-saving medical research, and has helped with important breakthroughs, such as the polio vaccine and research into a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.”

Planned Parenthood notes that eight state investigations since the release of the videos have found no wrongdoing or sale of fetal tissue by the organization. In October, Planned Parenthood tightened its policy and stopped receiving reimbursements for expenses related to fetal tissue donation to prove “beyond the shadow of a doubt” that it has no financial interest in tissue donation.

“As we have made clear from the beginning, Planned Parenthood has never sold fetal tissue for profit,” Laguens said Tuesday. “Instead, currently, we help women in two states who wish to do so donate tissue to this important medical research.”