For certain branches of medical research the use of foetal tissues is claimed to be indispensable, and the lost or discarded foetus serves as an obvious source of such material. Human foetuses are also sold for use in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. However, the use of foetal tissues, or even of whole but non-viable foetuses, may be conducted unethically. Research with foetal tissue denies the special respect due to the human foetus. Especially problematic is non-therapeutic research on the foetus in utero in anticipation of abortion. The aborted foetus can be regarded as a dead person, and may be treated with all the respect that is normally accorded to the dead, or it can be regarded as a sort of tumour or parasite of the womb of the woman who conceived it. In aborted foetal experimentation, the medical profession follows the legal loophole that the woman who conceived it has no rights concerning its disposition, and that the state does not regard it as a human being or even an animal. However, there is also the medical eventuality that some aborted foetuses may be made viable ex-utero, and in the meantime the foetus' right to life should be protected.
Some distinctions are important. Are the foetuses alive or dead ? Is the research being done in utero or ex utero; on foetuses to be aborted or to be brought to term; or on pre-viable or viable foetuses ? Is the foetus spontaneously aborted or is the abortion induced ? Is fertilization in utero or ex utero ? Is the research to benefit the subject as well as others, therapeutic research; or to only benefit others, non-therapeutic research ? Is the risk to the subject minimal, moderate or serious ?