Bioethicists Welcome NIH Director's Exit

Francis Collins leaves behind contentious legacy after pouring millions into fetal experiments

NIH director Francis Collins / Getty Images
October 6, 2021

National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins will step down this year after a decade-long run, leaving behind a legacy defined as much by his bipartisan appeal as the bioethical controversies that occurred under his leadership. 

Collins is a born-again Christian who has written extensively on the relationship between religion and science, which attracted the support of presidents from both parties dating back to the Clinton administration. He oversaw the Human Genome Project under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before ascending to lead the NIH under President Barack Obama. But his leadership at one of the federal government's top medical bodies has attracted the ire of bioethicists. The NIH under Collins spent millions of taxpayer dollars to fund studies that implanted aborted fetal organs into mice. Dr. David Prentice, an adjunct professor of molecular genetics at the Catholic University of America, said Collins moved the agency backward both ethically and scientifically.

"Sadly, Dr. Francis Collins will be remembered for impeding the development of some of the most promising miracles of science, such as patient-focused therapies using adult stem cells," Prentice, who serves as vice president of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told the Washington Free Beacon. "His support of biomedical experiments using aborted human fetal tissue, human embryonic stem cells, cloning, and horrifying human-animal chimeras led the NIH in a disappointing direction."

The NIH did not respond to a request for comment.

The NIH gave at least $2.7 million in taxpayer funds to establish a "pipeline" for fetal research at the University of Pittsburgh since 2015, according to documents released in August after a number of FOIA lawsuits. Scientists used fetal organs to create "humanized mice" to test different diseases and medications. One of these studies, documents revealed, had a quota that 50 percent of the donated fetuses were minorities and 25 percent were black. Another study, funded in 2020 by Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, implanted aborted fetal scalps onto lab mice to study skin diseases. 

David Daleiden, founder and president of the pro-life Center for Medical Progress, noted that Collins decided to step down not even two weeks after nearly 100 members of Congress wrote a letter demanding the NIH fully disclose its relationship with the University of Pittsburgh. 

"Dr. Collins's time as NIH director has been marked by unprecedented levels of taxpayer funding for grotesque and illegal experiments with aborted baby body parts and even live-aborted infants," Daleiden told the Free Beacon. "Before he leaves the NIH directorship, Dr. Collins should comply with the congressional document requests in full and salvage his legacy by revealing the full truth about government-sponsored trafficking of aborted infants."

President Donald Trump enacted rules to stop the federal government from conducting aborted fetal research, which the Biden administration overturned in April. Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, said Collins failed to stop ethical malpractice at the agency. She has little confidence that Collins's successor will put an end to such practices. 

"It is disgusting and disheartening that research on innocent preborn life will continue," Day told the Free Beacon. "There is nothing ethical about this process. We must stop the exploitation of pregnant women and viable infants."

The NIH's budget increased 37 percent over Collins's tenure to more than $41 billion annually. The agency has yet to comment on who will be Collins’s temporary replacement. President Joe Biden will nominate a new director, who will then be voted on by the Senate.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said the NIH should take the opportunity of a leadership change to reallocate its resources toward more ethical medical treatments. 

"Science should always be at the service of human life and dignity, not the reverse," Mancini told the Free Beacon. "We sincerely hope that the next NIH director will aggressively pursue treatments and healing that promote life, and never exploit the human person under the guise of science."