By: Bill Clinton
Date: January 22, 1993
Source: Clinton, Bill. William J. Clinton to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, January 22, 1993 1993 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, vol. 1, January 22, 1993. Available online at (accessed March 24, 2003).
About the Author: William Jefferson Clinton (1946–) was born William Jefferson Blythe IV in Hope, Arkansas. His father had died three months previously in a traffic accident. When Bill was four years old, his mother married Roger Clinton, and in high school, Bill took the Clinton name. Clinton received a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University in 1968. He attended Oxford University in England as a Rhodes scholar and upon his return to the United States entered Yale Law School, receiving his law degree in 1973. He served as the governor of Arkansas and the forty-second president of the United States (served 1993–2001).
Within the first weeks of taking office in 1993, Bill Clinton reversed a number of policies that had been established under Republican presidents Reagan and Bush. One of the first directives Clinton issued was to end the federal moratorium on the use of fetal tissue for federally funded medical research. Presidents Reagan and Bush had contended that the use of fetal tissue for research could lead to more abortions. The moratorium prevented the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant money from being given to projects using aborted tissue, though privately funded research was being done. Many groups welcomed the lifting of the moratorium, believing federal oversight of fetal tissue research is crucial and that this oversight is lost when federal funds are not used.
Fetal tissue has been used to treat various medical conditions since the 1920s. In 1928, researchers transplanted fetal tissue into patients suffering with diabetes, and later it was used to help develop the polio and rubella vaccines. Fetal tissue is desirable to scientists for many reasons. Unlike adult tissue, it is very adaptable—it has not yet undergone complete differentiation into specialized cells (like heart, liver, brain). It has an excellent capacity to rapidly divide and grow in many different environments. Researchers have used fetal tissue to investigate fetal development, learn more about birth defects, and treat diseases. Patients with a wide range of diseases may benefit from the use of fetal tissue research, such as those with Parkinson's disease, strokes, Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, and others. Fetal tissue is most promising as a replacement and stimulation for the regrowth of damaged tissue in the brain, spinal cord, and heart.
The use of fetal tissue in medical research is at the center of a political, legal, and moral controversy. The scientific research community maintains that fetal tissue is critical to, and extremely promising for, the treatment of many diseases, especially those involving the brain and spinal cord. Anti-abortion groups, in contrast, insist that using aborted fetuses is morally wrong and exploits a fetus as a means for another person's gain. Additionally, people from both sides of the issue have concerns about the potential commercialization and payment for aborted fetuses.
In 1998 researchers at the University of Wisconsin attained a scientific breakthrough when they isolated and cultured human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. Cells that can turn into different types of cells are called stem cells. Even adults have some stem cells in tissues that regenerate, such as bone and muscle. But adult stemcells can only turn into a limited number of cells. As embryos develop and cells begin to differentiate into specialized cells, those cells lose their flexibility to be any type of cell. Cells from embryo tissue, however, are even more immature and adaptable than fetal cells and have the ability to develop into any kind of cell.
The isolation of embryonic stem cells fueled the controversy. Embryos represent the period up until about the eighth week after conception, while a fetus is represented by the period from nine weeks until birth. Embryo tissue and fetal tissue are distinct under the law. However, the use of both fetal tissue and embryonic tissue raises many of the same moral, ethical, and scientific issues.
Fetal and embryonic tissue research will remain a part of the political agenda for some time to come. Each U.S. president since Ronald Reagan, along with Congress and federal regulatory agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, have debated the research use of any type of tissue from undeveloped humans, embryonic or fetal. When the tissue is obtained from an abortion, the debate becomes even more heated. Yet research on human embryos and fetal tissue transplantation may provide important insights into human development and hold great benefits for the treatment of many devastating injuries and diseases.
Primary Source: William J. Clinton to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, January 22, 1993
SYNOPSIS: On January 22, 1993, within weeks of taking office, President Bill Clinton issued the following memorandum ending the federal moratorium on fetal tissue research to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Monday, January 25, 1993
Volume 29—Number 3
Administration of William J. Clinton
Memorandum on Fetal Tissue Transplantation
January 22, 1993
Memorandum for the Secretary of Health and
Subject: Federal Funding of Fetal Tissue
On March 22, 1988, the Assistant Secretary for Health of Health and Human Services ("HHS") imposed a temporary moratorium on Federal funding of research involving transplantation of fetal tissue from induced abortions. Contrary to the recommendations of a National Institutes of Health advisory panel, on November 2, 1989, the Secretary of Health and Human Services extended the moratorium indefinitely. This moratorium has significantly hampered the development of possible treatments for individuals afflicted with serious diseases and disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and leukemia. Accordingly, I hereby direct that you immediately lift the moratorium.
You are hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
William J. Clinton
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Maynard-Moody, Steven. The Dilemma of the Fetus: Fetal Research, Medical Progress, and Moral Politics. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
Moore, Keith L., and T.V.N. Persaud. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1998.
Beardsley, Tim. "Aborting Research: Fetal Cell Transplants." Scientific American, August 1992, 17–18.
Trefil, James. "Brave New World." Smithsonian, December 2001, 38–46.
National Institutes of Health. "Stem Cells: A Primer." Available online at ; website home page: http://www.nih.gov (accessed February 27, 2003).
National Library of Medicine. "Fetal Development." Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002398.htm; website home page: http://www.nlm.nih.gov (accessed March 24, 2003).