Health & Medicine

Placerville fetal tissue procurer cuts ties with Planned Parenthood

David Chavez, 29, and his wife Jackelin Aguilar, left, 26, pray alongside Amelia Ruiz, 25, and her son Avel Ruiz, 2 months old, after joining anti abortion-rights protesters at Planned Parenthood in Sacramento in July.
David Chavez, 29, and his wife Jackelin Aguilar, left, 26, pray alongside Amelia Ruiz, 25, and her son Avel Ruiz, 2 months old, after joining anti abortion-rights protesters at Planned Parenthood in Sacramento in July. rbyer@sacbee.com

A Placerville-based company that received fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood has ended its business relationship with the women’s health organization, which has been at the center of a national controversy over the harvesting and alleged selling of such tissue.

StemExpress said in a statement posted online over the weekend that it was cutting ties with Planned Parenthood due to “increased questions” about the national group.

“While we value our relationship with Planned Parenthood, that work represents a small percentage of our overall business activity and we must focus our limited resources on resolving these inquiries,” the statement said.

The company’s decision comes amid a prolonged attack on Planned Parenthood, launched in July by abortion opponents who accuse the organization of illegally selling fetal organs and tissues.

The attacks surfaced in a series of much-viewed videos from the Center for Medical Progress, an Irvine-based anti-abortion group founded by Davis High School graduate David Daleiden. In the videos, actors pose as representatives from a biotech firm seeking to acquire fetal tissue procured during abortions. In an effort to demonstrate that Planned Parenthood was profiting from the transactions, the video shows images of a human tissue order page on StemExpress’ website.

Planned Parenthood has firmly stated that it donates fetal material to middleman companies such as StemExpress only after the mother has consented to make a donation after her abortion, and that they do not profit financially from the transaction. Fetal material is then used by medical researchers looking for stem cell-related cures to conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Since the release of the first undercover video, StemExpress – which collects human cells, fluids, blood and tissue products for medical research – has been under fire in social media and at its Placerville office, and has won a temporary restraining order against the Center for Medical Progress.

StemExpress did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

In his own statement on the Center for Medical Progress’ website this week, Daleiden questioned whether the Placerville firm has truly split from Planned Parenthood, or was merely “following orders from Planned Parenthood National to save face.”

“Planned Parenthood and StemExpress should both answer questions about this shady move, and the full details of their ‘business relationship,’ under oath before Congress and the American people,” the statement read.

Several states are threatening to cut ties to Planned Parenthood because of the controversy, while Republican officials and candidates are demanding public money be withheld from the group.

StemExpress procures fetal material for pharmaceutical companies and research institutions from about 30 sites, including two Planned Parenthood affiliates. Approximately 10 percent of their overall procurement is from fetal tissue, the company said in an affidavit filed against the Center for Medical Progress in July.

In an Aug. 3 online statement, StemExpress said it legally acquires medical specimens, and that the company does receive payment from biomedical research firms and institutions to test, isolate and purify the donated cells into a usable state.

“We would all benefit from a dialogue about how rare and important human materials are collected, how stem cell research works and the incredible power of regenerative medicine to improve the quality of life of so many people stricken with disease,” the company said.

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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