Q & A on What is a Blockbuster Anti-Wrinkle Cream Worth, Morally Speaking Or How Many Fetuses Does It Take To Make a Great Cosmeceutical



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Tag(s): Archive post Legacy post
Topic(s): Stem Cells

Question: What is it worth to produce a blockbuster anti-wrinkle cream?
Hypothetical Answer from Cosmeceutical Company: A single skin biopsy of a 14-week old voluntarily aborted fetus from a minor with consent from her parents.

Question: What is it worth to produce a blockbuster anti-wrinkle cream?
Hypothetical Answer from Any Pro-Life Advocacy Group: We see aging as a natural part of the human life span, but if companies want to do this research it is absolutely fine to use morally acceptable alternatives to embryo and fetus research such as animal research or collagen, as you promote human dignity.



Walking through the cosmetics aisle at your local pharmacy or department store, you might not be able to distinguish Neocutis from any other of the high priced facial creams that promise women (and men) a younger, fresher, wrinkle-free face. Nearly every facial cream, cleanser, and mask is chocked-full of the sorts of exhilarating and yet seemingly possible promises that make us want to run out and buy a tube of the latest and greatest face flattening, plumping or softening cream makes us feel hopeful that immortality or at least (superficial) youth is just one swipe of the charge card away.

One more addition to this increasingly crowded market of products is Neocutis, a Swiss product made of PSP (processed skin proteins) which promises to treat everything from eczema to psoriasis to severe wounds to wrinkles and more.

But here’s the catch: these “processed skin proteins” are derived from the cell lines of a single set of skin cells from a 14-week old aborted male fetus in Switzerland.

They were harvested as a result of an abortion from a young girl whose parents, according to the Neocutis website, gave consent for to the abortion and to donate the body of the fetus to medical research. Thus the Lausanne, Switzerland company took those cells and made the proteins into what by many accounts to be a wonder-cream for repairing damaged skin.

Whether the abortion was elective or medically required remains under debate whether one believes the pro-life version from the World Net Daily crowd or the Neocutis website on responsible use of fetal skin cells. My guess is that the truth is somewhere in between.

Regardless of the reasons why the abortion took place (the facts are unclear), one can only hope the young girl and her family were not induced to undergo the abortion for financial reasons. Setting that aside, the more compelling ethical question remains: what moral complicity exists for those who choose to put fetal skin protein creams on their faces? Do the purchasers of Neocutis in fact endorse the use of fetal tissue for medical research generally or specifically for cosmetic research?

Of course, they do. Beyond that, the cautionary tale here is that absent clear labeling that says “This product contains embryonic, fetal or other kinds of tissue, cells, or their derivatives” our cosmetic aisles are about to very quickly to become filled with thousands of products that contain precisely the biological materials that consumers would have no idea they are smearing on their faces.

Yet for some, this will have no moral implication at all. For them, fetal proteins in a face cream aren’t any different from animal or plant protein because for them the moral status of the aborted fetus doesn’t have the moral status to give one concern if consent to both abortion and research took place.

But for many, it would be unthinkable to fetal ANYTHING into their deepening wrinkles to make them become less so. In fact, many would rather have crow’s feet deeper than the Grand Canyon than have a fetal tissue cell touch their face as a result of their moral conviction. And for them, more power to them.

However, for those women who voluntarily elect for whatever reason do donate their aborted fetuses to science, we certainly ought not to discourage them. It can for many turn a gut-wrenching decision into something that makes them feel they have given something back to society. However, dialogue is necessary as to what sorts of uses those precious resources ought best to be used.

$100 or more tubes of face cream are a rather low priority compared to the hundreds to thousands of other research priorities that still exist for these cells and tissues. Personally, I neither believe in their entirety Neocutis’ press materials or the pro-life website’s versions of the story surrounding this woman’s gift. Absent those facts, I think all we can really ask ourselves is “Do we really want to “vote with our wallets” and purchase products with contents procured by morally questionable means? With the verdict still out, my wallet will be voting no.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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