In a scene reminiscent of the movie ‘Silence of the Lambs’ a brilliant medical doctor sits at a table casually munching on salad and sipping red wine (Chianti?) while salivating over the prospect of harvesting the ‘tender’ livers of aborted babies. No, this is not a pitch for a new horror movie. This is actually what happened in a video recently released by the pro-life Center for Medical Progress, which has since been viewed millions of times on the internet.
In the video, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services Dr. Deborah Nucatola nonchalantly details the ins-and-outs of supplying the medical research industry’s seemingly insatiable demand for fetal tissue. The juicy tidbits (no pun intended) of the three hour lunch interview depicting Dr. Nucatola’s strategic fetus tissue ‘harvesting’ efforts have already become media fodder, but the subtler and arguably more macabre implications of Planned Parenthood’s activities have gone largely unexplored.
Not content to hunt and peck for aborted fetuses at small local clinics, Dr. Nucatola wants to create a stable pipeline of tissue supply and suggests to the undercover CMP agent posing as a medical research tissue supplier look into Cook County Hospital in Chicago, because “there you have the best opportunity” “to get those larger cases.” “[I]t’s in the center of Chicago” she continues, “two airports, plenty of opportunities there.” It is clear that Planned Parenthood is facing somewhat of a problem in that each of its medical clinic ‘affiliates’ around the country apply different procedures with regards to the issue of parental consent to use of aborted fetuses for medical research. And yet Planned Parenthood seems to want to drive tissue supply, and to do that they ostensibly have to get more women to consent to tissue donation.
Now there is of course a fine line between a patient requesting donation or ‘opting’ on a generic consent form to donate tissue, and the clinic or some outside party ‘coercing’ a patient into donating the tissue for research. Dr. Nucatola is well aware of the ethical dilemma here, in the sense that in order to best ‘harvest’ certain types of tissue, the doctor has to know in advance whether the patient has consented. And herein lies a bright ethical line that Dr. Nucatola crosses. “For example, what I’m dealing with now, if I know what that they’re looking for, I’ll just keep it in the back of my mind, and try to at least keep that part intact.” Whoa.
The whole debate over abortion has been typically cast in the media as a function of two primary issues. The first is a woman’s right to choose. The second is that the decision to terminate is to be made solely between a woman and a doctor. In fact that relationship has been cast as inviolable. But here the doctor introduces as third element. The medical procedure itself could be altered depending upon whether the doctor intends to keep some parts of the fetus intact for later sale to a tissue supplier. This would necessarily have implications on the safety of the procedure, which while they ‘may’ be minimal, should in no way be in the mind – even in the back of the mind – of a doctor performing a potentially life-threatening operation.
It is clear from the conversation that Dr. Nucatola believes there is a different ethical standard being applied at ‘private’ (ostensibly for-profit) clinics than at Planned Parenthood. “I’m telling you, Family Planning Associates, they may go for their money.” That is, a tissue provider might be able to compete for aborted fetus parts at those places by offering a higher price than Planned Parenthood would be able to ethically charge. However, as she points out, “their volume’s not going to compare to Planned Parenthood’s volume. We have 40 percent of the market in the whole country.” Another ethical line just run over here. Federal law specifically prohibits the sale of fetal body parts, and yet the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood casually implies that they have cornered the whole market.
Some pro-choice groups have roundly criticized CMP for using deceptive practices in uncovering Planned Parenthood’s baby parts ‘harvesting’ syndicate. But the balancing factor here should be whether CMP’s activities actually yielded pertinent and truthful information about an alarming trend in PP's orientation to the health of their patients. Clearly it did so, and CMP’s actions should constitute fair game. Imagine our doubting the ingenuousness of a pedophile quibbling with the producers of the NBC show ‘To Catch A Predator’ over using deceptive practices to lure them into trying to have sex with an underage child. It would be laughable and dismissed out of hand. The techniques CMP employed do not even come close to entrapment – the intentional enticement of someone who would otherwise not even consider committing a crime – because, as Dr. Nucatola readily admits, “behind closed doors, these conversations are [already] happening with affiliates.”
The full conversation reads on like a classical Greek tragedy. Everyone knows the outcome, but the way in which the protagonist inexorably seals her own fate makes for gripping drama. In a final tragic postscript, Dr. Nucatola describes how she got into the fetal tissue business in the first place. “So, February 28th 1998 was my last day of GYN ever as a resident and then I would be done. And on that day, there was a patient that was transferred to me, from an outside clinic, who had…. [a] late second trimester abortion, she was bleeding and she looked up at me, and she said, ‘Don’t let me die.’ And she actually bled to death.” It was at that point that Nucatola decided to specialize in abortions, because she did not want any more women to die from the procedure. That idealism was apparently lost along the way, and the person who emerged obviously felt comfortable steering a for-profit fetal tissue supplier to a private clinic with lower ethical (and perhaps medical) standards.