Herald Sun - Australia Foetal tissue for overseas sale
By Tony Wall

A SYDNEY company is involved in a secret plan to collect tissue from aborted babies and export it for medical experiments.

The sensitive proposal, to harvest some of the 90,000 foetuses aborted in Australia each year has been condemned by pro-life groups for fostering an international trade in human body parts.

The Daily Telegraph has established that a Dutch bio-tech company, Crucell, working through a Sydney contract research organisation, Parexel International, has applied to the ethics committee of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide for access to foetal material.

It is believed to be the first proposed commercial collection of foetuses in Australia, but those behind the project were hoping to carry it out without the public knowing.

The tissue would be sent to Crucell's laboratories in the Netherlands and used to grow cell lines for research into vaccines for infectious diseases such as HIV and ebola. The abortion doctors who collect the tissue stand to make money out of the project they would be paid an "hourly rate" for their time

This appears to contravene National Health and Medical Research Council's guidelines on the use of foetal tissue for research, which state that there should be no "element of commerce" involved.

The NHMRC has no knowledge of Crucell's plan. Crucell, and Parexel's US parent company, are listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, the Federal Government's most vocal critic of embryonic stem cell research, wants secrecy surrounding the project to be lifted.

"I'd like to know a lot more about what sort of guidelines are going to be put in place," he said.

Right to Life Australia spokeswoman Margaret Tighe said the plan was appalling.

"Not only do we kill babies and use Medicare funds for it but here we are contemplating making money and trading in the bodies of these poor unfortunates," she said.

"How much lower can we sink in our lack of respect for human life?"

Both Crucell and Parexel had refused to name the hospital for "commercial reasons".

A Queen Elizabeth spokesman said the application was withdrawn last week but Crucell maintained it was proceeding.

Australia is one of only four countries worldwide that could provide a source of foetal tissue free from mad cow disease contamination.

The Food and Drug Administration in the US has ranked Australia and New Zealand in the top tier of countries free of infectious diseases and it is this "clean bill of health" that has turned Crucell's eye on us.

Parexel's Sydney director, Muriel Boutillon, referred all comment to Crucell's Netherlands-based spokeswoman Louise Dolfing. Ms Dolfing said if the application was approved it could help to find vaccines for new diseases such as SARS and save many lives.