In the wake of the recent Planned Parenthood scandal (in which hidden-camera videos captured a medical director at the organization speaking about donating fetal tissue, which is a long-standing and legal practice), Republican presidential candidate/Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson called medical experiments using fetal tissue “disturbing.” But as a science writer Jen Gunter uncovered this week, Carson himself has conducted experiments using fetal brain tissue while at Johns Hopkins.
As Buzzfeed reports, Carson told Fox News that he was troubled by the idea of using tissue from 17-week old fetuses for medical research: “At 17 weeks, you’ve got a nice little nose and little fingers and hands and the heart’s beating. It can respond to environmental stimulus. How can you believe that that’s just an irrelevant mass of cells? That’s what they want you to believe, when in fact it is a human being.” For the 1992 study that Gunter discovered, Carson and his colleagues used tissues “obtained from two fetuses aborted at the ninth and and 17th week of gestation” in order to better understand how the human brain develops.
What’s scandalous here is not that Carson used fetal tissue in an experiment; that’s something that many researchers do, and have done, for years. Rather, it’s the sense that Carson’s words and actions don’t align. But there’s also the chance that Carson changed his views between 1992 and 2015–but it’s hard to know, since Carson hasn’t issued any comments on the story yet.