Commentary

UPitt Medical Center, Site of Abortions and Fetal Research, Should Return Ethics Award

By Ryan Navarro | March 18, 2021 | 10:05am EDT
Pictured is a fetus replica. (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Pictured is a fetus replica. (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

For the third consecutive year, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has been named one of the world’s most ethical companies based on what is described as an “unwavering commitment to business integrity.” The Ethisphere Institute, a for-profit ethics monitor, has placed the $23 billion healthcare provider and insurer on a prestigious honoree list, among an elite group of 135 businesses that purportedly define and advance the standards of values-based leadership.

Regrettably, this praise is misguided. Just as disgraced Gov. Andrew Cuomo should return his Emmy based on deathly behind-the-scenes pandemic decisions impacting the elderly, my employer ought to withdraw from the Institute’s list based on taxpayer-funded fetal experimentation involving secretive abortion practices done within the hospital walls.

UPMC’s slogan of “life-changing medicine,” which has itself been the subject of a lawsuit, also includes life-ending procedures for both medical and voluntary reasons at one of the company’s hospitals. Magee-Womens performs more than 500 abortions each year, about half of which are completed in the second trimester of pregnancy. For instance, the hospital reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Health that they performed 835 second-trimester abortions between 2016 and 2018.

There’s a distinct possibility that the Ethisphere Institute is unaware that not all healthy babies who enter the hospital leave alive. Abortion is one of UPMC’s best-kept secrets, as it’s not listed on the company’s main clinical services webpage or the available services page that is specific to Magee.

Despite the lack of public knowledge, the controversial practice is nothing new. According to the Magee Project, part of the Pennsylvania-based People Concerned for the Unborn Child, abortions have been performed at the facility since before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing them in 1973. Since 2005, Magee-Womens has also served as a training ground for future abortionists by offering hands-on experience using dilation and curettage (D&C) and dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedures as part of the University of Pittsburgh’s Ryan Residency Program.

When mothers consent to donate their unborn children for research studies, the baby parts are processed at the Pitt Biospecimen Core located in three of UPMC’s hospitals: Magee, Shadyside, and Presbyterian. The tissue bank serves as a hub for universities around the country that engage in fetal testing. Biomedical experimentation involving abortions at Magee are supported by the more than $577 million in taxpayer money allocated to medical research at UPMC and Pitt.

Some of the experiments are noteworthy for the gruesome way in which they have been conducted. Campus Reform published an article in January about a study that grafted fetal scalps from “medically or elective indicated termination of pregnancy” through Magee to mice and rats.

The study was approved by Pitt’s Institutional Review Board, upon which Magee’s director in charge of family planning, Beatrice Chen, sits as a vice chair. Dr. Chen also oversees abortion services at Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania as the health center’s medical director.

Not everyone representing Pitt’s tissue bank has been on board with this type of research. A former project manager, Lori Kelly, resigned from her position in 2016 after learning about a federally funded project in which researchers planned to collect bladders and kidneys from unborn children up to 24 weeks in pregnancy. During an interview last year, Ms. Kelly discussed how she was tasked with developing a pull-down menu of fetal body parts from which researchers could select.

This kind of experimentation has been going on at Pitt for at least the last decade. In a study published in 2012, National Institutes of Health grantee Bruno Gridelli co-designed and coordinated an experimental method for harvesting viable fetal liver tissue.

The research used fifteen babies aborted in the “late second trimester,” and there is speculation that they either died during transport or after their bodies were opened to harvest the livers. Notably, Dr. Gridelli’s heartbreaking research helped earn him positions as executive vice president of UPMC International and manager of UPMC’s operations in Italy.

Doctors who draw attention to the unintended consequences of social experiments are not treated as kindly. UPMC removed a cardiologist, Norman Wang, from a director position last year based on “social media backlash” against his peer-reviewed paper that expressed concern about affirmative action programs in medical school admissions. The U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation into Pitt last October, and the Center for Individual Rights is suing UPMC on Dr. Wang’s behalf.

For those opposed to abortion and the resulting research, there are reasons to be hopeful. Pro-life advocates have begun to make inroads with Magee’s Board of Directors by sharing ideas for change directly with members. Given UPMC’s emphasis on addressing racial disparities in healthcare, these considerations can include the ways in which abortion is especially harmful to minority communities.

UPMC has an opportunity to live up to the stated value of “treating all individuals with dignity and respect” by focusing resources on alternatives to abortion and investing in replacements for fetal tissue in research. These goals are truly deserving of accolades. 

Ryan Navarro works as a therapist with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. His articles have appeared in The Washington Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Cincinnati Herald, and The Altoona Mirror.

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