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Honesty of witness questioned during hearing on sale of fetal tissue

Alberty's testimony centered around his conversion from supporting a woman's right to abortion to opposing abortion  

March 10, 2000
Web posted at: 11:22 a.m. EST (1622 GMT)

WASHINGTON -- A House subcommittee looking into allegations that some doctors and clinics are illegally procuring and profiting from the sale of fetal tissue called into question the honesty of a key witnesses testifying Thursday.

Medical technician Lawrence Dean Alberty Jr., who worked for two companies that obtained and sold fetal tissue, told the committee he was paid by the anti-abortion group Life Dynamics Inc. to make a video about unscrupulous harvesting practices, including the allegation that some fetal tissue samples were taken from live babies.

During questioning, Democrats on the House Commerce subcommittee were quick to point out a number of inconsistencies between the story Alberty told on the video and an affidavit he signed in January.

"When I was under oath I told the truth," Alberty said. "Anything on video is a different story." He later added he made allegations on the Life Dynamics video because he thought "that's what they wanted to hear."

Republicans, who had supported Alberty, distanced themselves from him during his questioning.

"I found so many inconsistencies in your testimony that your credibility as far as this member is concerned is shot," Rep. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, told Alberty.

Instead of buttressing his allegations of wrongdoing, Alberty's testimony centered around his conversion from supporting a woman's right to abortion to opposing abortion.

Fetal tissue research is legal under federal law, but the sale of tissue is strictly regulated. It can only be taken with consent, and sellers can only recoup costs associated with harvesting the tissue. They are not allowed to profit from the sale.

Scientists hope fetal tissue research may one day lead to treatments for conditions like Alzheimer's disease and cancer. But the ethics surrounding the research have long been questioned by anti-abortion activists.

Panel members plan to continue the probe despite Thursdays events, according to committee spokesman Steve Schmidt.

Even if Alberty's charges were disregarded, that "does not mitigate the fact it appears there is a trafficking of tissue parts in violation of federal law," Schmidt said.

Some have charged the hearings are more about reopening the abortion debate than about strengthening laws on fetal tissue procurement.

"If people are breaking the law, enforce it," said Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California. "Let's not sensationalize and generalize, which would undermine those legitimate practitioners. If we do so, then we undermine those trying to achieve life-saving progress."

CNN Medical Correspondent Eileen O'Connor andReuters contributed to this report.

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House Commerce Committee
Life Dynamics
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Planned Parenthood
National Bioethics Advisory Commission
American Life League

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