It sounds like a horror story made up by an anti-abortion group, but it is not. Neocutis, a Swiss “cosmeceutical,” is being marketed as a “Bio-restorative Skin Cream with PSP™” for “sensitive, stressed and irritated skin.” PSP are processed skin-cell proteins and the manufacturer, Neocutis SA, is honest about where they came from:
Inspired by fetal skin’s unique properties, Neocutis’ proprietary technology uses cultured fetal skin cells to obtain an optimal, naturally balanced mixture of skin nutrients including cytokines, growth factors and antioxidants.
Neocutis SA, cognizant of the ethical objections, declares:
Since the 1930s, the international medical community has used donated fetal tissue to better understand cell biology and as an essential tool in the development of vaccines, which are credited with saving millions of lives worldwide. The 1954 Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to researchers who utilized 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.
In other words, Neocutis SA believes that this is yet another benefit of stem cell research. But is this what proponents have in mind when urging the funding of stem cell research? Does support for stem cell research to cure fatal diseases extend to support for stem cells in cosmetics?
Dr. Summer Johnson of Bioethics.net asks:
… [W]hat moral complicity exists for those who choose to put fetal skin protein creams on their faces? …
She acknowledges that consumers are likely to have one of two responses:
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…
I must admit that this issue has never occurred to me. When I think of stem cell research, I think of life saving technologies, not cosmetics. Does it matter, though, what the stem cells will be used for once you’ve decided they can be used? Is there any moral difference between using the tissue of aborted fetuses to cure cancer and using it to cure wrinkles? And if it does matter, what does this tell us about the status of fetal tissue? Are fetal cells no different from the animal and plant cells often used in the manufacture of cosmetics?
At a minimum, people deserve to know when products are manufactured using the tissue of aborted fetuses so they can decide for themselves whether to buy and use them. The real question is whether we should go further. Instead of leaving the moral decision to individuals, should we restrict the use of fetal tissue to life saving products, or even to no products at all?