Objective: Fetal tissue research has driven significant medical advances but remains publicly contentious in the United States. The views of pregnant individuals in the United States regarding the donation of fetal tissue offer an important and previously unexplored perspective on this issue.
Methods: We conducted a secondary analysis of data from two separate, broader qualitative studies. Pregnant and recently pregnant individuals (N=79) from clinical sites at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins University, and Massachusetts General Hospital were interviewed individually using a semi-structured guide addressing a range of issues related to infectious disease research and pregnancy, including the acceptability of fetal tissue research. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed for emergent themes.
Results: Among this sample of predominantly Black (61%), reproductive-aged pregnant and recently pregnant participants, the majority (72%) generally supported fetal tissue research. The following three themes were identified: choice, respect, and meaning. Respondents discussed the deeply personal nature of decisions surrounding fetal tissue research, emphasizing the importance of informed consent and respect for the person’s emotional state when approaching for consent. The ways in which participants regarded how to respectfully handle fetal tissue also shaped views about the acceptability of donation, both for and against. For many participants, fetal tissue donation to research represented one way of ascribing meaning to pregnancy termination or loss.
Conclusion: Among this diverse sample of pregnant and recently pregnant individuals, most were supportive of fetal tissue donation for research. A better understanding of pregnant individuals’ views on this topic may lead to policies and practices that are congruent with the needs and values of people facing decisions regarding the disposition of fetal remains.