The University of Minnesota has recently come under fire regarding the sourcing of its fetal tissue for medical research. Beginning in July, state legislators asked the research institution whether it used aborted fetal tissue for medical studies, and were told no. However, in a letter to two regents in October, University President Eric Kaler wrote, “The University does not know all of the various sources of fetal tissue procured by [Advanced Bioscience Resources] ABR. However, ABR has informed the University that it procures tissue from induced abortions at clinics throughout the country, including up until July 2015, clinics in Minnesota.” The University later reassessed its fetal tissue research policy, and in a letter to the board of regents, Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, called for the school to “ban the use and purchase of aborted fetal tissue.”

Abby Marino is vice-president of Students for Human Life, a pro-life University of Minnesota student organization. She writes:

Absolutely not. Using aborted fetal tissue for medical research perpetuates a system of abuse in which the institution actually does itself a disservice.

We are looking at two violations here: in choosing to not pursue moral and legal means of fetal tissue purchase, not only is state law violated, which prohibits the use of aborted fetal tissue for medical research, but this is a very loud violation of the institution’s accountability to the highest possible form of ethical standards and research conduct.

Institutions could actually do themselves a public favor by dissolving all ties between their research departments and the fears and concerns raised in relation to any procurement companies linked with abortion facilities. I strongly encourage institutions to obtain fetal tissue from unanimously ethical and justifiable sources, i.e., stillborn or miscarried infants.

Interestingly, institutions somehow recognize ethical complications in the field of animal research, yet simply feel entitled to use our taxpayer and tuition dollars for a practice much more ethically steeped: fetal tissue from induced abortions.

As a student here at the U of M, I want to see my University abide by state law and the highest possible moral code and ethical standard.

Jon Hanson is an officer for the University Pro-Choice Coalition, and is a biology major at the College of Biological Sciences. He writes:

There is absolutely no doubt about the great value of fetal tissue in biomedical research. In the past, investigations with the stem cells harbored in these tissues led to the development of the vaccines for polio and rubella and the subsequent eradication of those diseases. Currently, fetal tissue research aims to use these potent cells to cure neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, as well as to develop therapies and cures for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Of course, before this life-saving research can be conducted, the tissue must be procured from somewhere. In the case of induced abortion, a woman is given the option of donating her fetal tissue only after she has already made her choice to terminate the pregnancy and only after the operation has already been performed. Thus, the fact that the tissue donation could be used for research affects neither whether nor how the abortion is performed.

Furthermore, informed consent is a major aspect of this protocol; women know their donated tissue could be used to develop world-changing cures when they agree to donate. This is a generous decision that comes with deep thought and consideration. Why should their generosity not be allowed to benefit society?

Since there are already strict legal guidelines set to protect women during the procurement of this tissue, and the research has saved and can continue to save many more lives, donated aborted fetal tissue should undoubtedly be able to be used for biomedical research.

Today’s Question: Should institutions use aborted fetal tissue for medical research?

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The push for prison reform and racial justice have moved together along parallel lines. A recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that about 21 percent of all federal drug offenders are white, while 38 percent are black and 37 percent are Latino. Just weeks ago, about 6,000 inmates were released from federal custody, as part of a decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to cut prison overcrowding and nonviolent drug offenses by a 2 year average. A recent article by The New York Times found a correlation between an increase of heroin use among suburban whites and a less stringent war on drugs.

Nazgol Ghandnoosh and Ashley Nellis, researchers at The Sentencing Project, write:

The War on Drugs was set in motion in the mid-1980s and urged a punitive, criminal justice response to the crack cocaine epidemic in particular. For decades since, states and the federal government enacted stiff prison penalties that were disproportionately applied to low-income African Americans in urban areas. These policies swelled prisons, deepened racial tensions, and fragmented families and communities.

Americans are once again concerned about the pains of addiction with the growing abuse of prescription medications and the related rise of heroin. Since 2000, heroin-related deaths have quadrupled, and between 2006 and 2013 alone, the number of first time heroin users nearly doubled from 90,000 to 169,000. This time, though, the focus is on the blight in primarily white suburban and rural communities. And this time, political leaders including President Obama are emphasizing drug treatment rather than criminal punishment.

It is hard not to conclude from these divergent trajectories that race and class significantly shape drug policy priorities. Indeed, researchers have shown that when white Americans associate crime with people of color, they are more supportive of punitive criminal justice policies.

But it’s important to recognize that, even though we seem to be reorienting many of our criminal justice responses, components of the drug war rage on. In 2014, police officers made 1.5 million drug arrests and over 300,000 people were in U.S. prisons for a drug conviction. Enforcement continues to disproportionately target people of color: almost two thirds of drug prisoners are black or Latino.

Even for heroin, the public health approach has been limited to certain users. Louisiana and Kentucky have increased sentences for sellers. And prosecutors across the country are levying murder charges against people whose drug sale resulted in a lethal overdose. These convictions can carry decades-long sentences for people who are sometimes addicts themselves.

In 2009, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske retired the drug war ideology, explaining: “We’re not at war with people in this country.” His successor, Michael Botticelli, advances a public health approach and is himself in recovery. But we remain far from aligning our policies with our vision for effectively grappling with substance abuse.

Today’s Question: Does race change the way people discuss drug crimes?

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This is an occasional college debate series hosted by Today’s Question where we invite debate clubs to frame and guide the day’s discussion. Positions taken by the debaters don’t necessarily reflect their views. As always, personal attacks aren’t allowed in this space. The comment thread continues to be open to all. Join in!

The Supreme Court agreed to reexamine how the University of Texas at Austin uses race in determining admissions, which could impact affirmative action across college campuses. In Fisher v. University of Texas (UT), the court will rule whether or not considering race as a factor in UT’s admission policy is unconstitutional. The white plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, claims her race was a factor in her rejection from the school in 2008, since nonwhite students with worse grades were accepted.

Defending the argument is Adam Johnson, a freshman entrepreneurial management student at the Carlson School of Management.

Why does America have such a big issue with affirmative action? Each college should be able to set its own policies for admissions, and get the mix of students they desire. This is especially true for private schools, but should apply to colleges across the country. If Texas wants to have more racial diversity on their campus, the benefits granted to the students that get into the school balance out the harm done to students who don’t make it in. If a white student wants to argue the affirmative action system is unfair to them, then why can’t a poor student argue that it is unfair that they didn’t get to attend a private school and get a tutor to raise their tests scores.

Fairness is only half of the argument. It doesn’t matter if the system is fair if the system is not effective. However, affirmative action achieves real results, first in increasing diversity, and then in having that diversity create better outcomes for everyone involved. Studies have consistently found that if you take away affirmative action, you take away as much as two thirds of the black and Hispanic population from a school. This poses a problem because more diversity provides a better college experience. A campus that has a student population from a variety of cultures, backgrounds and experiences provides more parallels to a real life working culture, and gives students more perspective. Affirmative action should absolutely continue to be a part of America’s college system.

Challenging the argument is Matthew Erickson, a freshman at St. Olaf College. He plans to major in English and neuroscience.

Affirmative action, or the requirement that colleges and universities accept certain percentages of different social groups, ought not to be utilized, because it entrenches the stigma it attempts to resolve. When someone is given “a leg up” because you’re a member of a group that’s “handicapped” by discrimination, whether against their gender or ethnicity or something else, they are branded by the administration as victims. While it may be true that it’s harder for them to achieve because of subconscious, automatic profiling systems we all use (or the very conscious, despicable actions of bigotry), it’s also true that this new profile still starts from a very simple assumption about their past experience and current capacities that’s patronizing.

Instead, let’s consider the more democratic alternative, a Tabula Rosa (blank slate) approach. If a person’s capacity for rationalization and recall, their values, and the level of engagement they have in their local communities are the primary criterion for higher education, we create a college community far more protected from the problems of discriminatory profiling. Whether their access to resources compared with those in the more hegemonic group is less, and whether they’re held against unbecoming stereotypes, ceases to be relevant within a protected, ‘blank slate’ administration, while it simply changes form in an administration run by affirmative action.

Today’s Question: Should colleges look at race in determining admissions?

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In the first half of 2015, around 137,000 people traveled across the Mediterranean Sea to seek refuge in Europe, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Traveling through terrible conditions aboard unsafe boats and dinghies, approximately 800 people died last April in the largest refugee shipwreck on record. The majority are fleeing from war or persecution at Read more