London (CNSNews.com) - Pro-life groups expressed fierce objections Tuesday to new research showing that it may be possible to harvest eggs from an aborted baby for use in treatments using in vitro fertilization.
The study was released this week at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Madrid, Spain.
Dr. Tal Biron-Shental of the Meir hospital in Kfar Saba, Israel, said her team had taken slices from the ovaries of seven unborn children aborted between 22 and 33 weeks. Researchers were able to keep the ovarian tissue alive for a month afterwards and found that follicles, the precursor cells to eggs, began to mature during that time.
Speaking at the conference, Biron-Shental acknowledged that the procedure could be ethically objectionable.
"I'm fully aware of the controversy about this," she said, "but probably, in some place, it will be ethically acceptable.
"There is a shortage of donated eggs for IVF (in vitro fertilization). The goal is still theoretical, but if we can mature those eggs, we could use them for donation for IVF," she said.
The Israeli team was aided by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Mice have been born using the technique, but Biron-Shental's research, the results of which were announced Monday, is the first time that similar experiments have been undertaken in humans.
The harvesting procedure raises the possibility that the genetic mother of a child created by IVF would be an aborted baby.
The research was condemned by Jack Scarisbrick, national chairman of Life, a British anti-abortion group. Scarisbrick called the experiments "totally repugnant."
"I hope all decent people will say this is totally unacceptable," he said. "It is runaway science, and no civilized country should allow a child who is being killed to be robbed in this way."
Scarisbrick called on all further research to be banned and said that "Israel should lead the way.
"I long to hear the voices of leading rabbis saying this is an affront to God," he said.
"The scientists no doubt hope we will be swayed by the utilitarian argument...but the ends do not justify the means," he said. "We hope that this will shock people into realizing just how awful the reproductive industry is, just how far down we are on the slippery slope."
The U.K.'s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which regulates the IVF industry, has also come out against the use of aborted babies in fertility treatment.
"The use of fetal ovarian tissue raises difficult social, ethical, legal and scientific concerns," said HFEA Chairwoman Suzi Leather.
"It would be difficult for any child to come to terms with being created by aborted fetuses," Leather said.
A 1994 law banned the use of "fetal ovarian tissue" in fertility treatments, but the use of such tissue for research purposes can be allowed under HFEA license. However, the authority said Tuesday that it has not granted any such licenses.
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