Yedidyah Schiermeyer asked:

Are we allowed to benefit from fetal tissue? In particular, can fetal matter from a spontaneously aborted fetus be used for research? This raises the whole issue of embryonic stem cell research.

Yedidyah Schiermeyer, Greenwood Village, CO

The Kollel replies:

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 29b) says that there is an Isur Hana'ah (prohibition of deriving benefit) on a dead body, and a fetus is considered a dead body from the fact that they produce Tum'as Mes (Rambam, Tum'as Mes, 2:1; Mishnah Ohalos 18:7). Therefore, there would seem to be an Isur Hana'ah on a fetus. If so, it certainly would be forbidden to sell an aborted fetus to a laboratory. It is not clear, however, that it would be forbidden for the laboratory to do stem cell research on the fetus. They are not deriving any physical or monetary benefit from the fetus. Even if doing research were considered some kind of Hana'ah (satisfying a desire for new knowledge), it might be permissible if the research were considered a Mitzvah - in this case - of curing some disease.

Even if the laboratory was not doing research per se but rather using the fetus to develop sellable products derived from the stem cells (e.g. organ tissue for transplant) it might be that there is no Isur Hana'ah because there is a significant Shinuy (alteration) in the original fetus and it is no longer recognized as such.

The discussion above assumes that the fetus is Jewish. If it is not Jewish, there may be more room to be lenient. The Shulchan Aruch rules (YD 349:1) that the Isur Hana'ah on a dead body applies to a non-Jewish dead body as well. The GRA and others hold that the prohibition is only for a Jewish dead body. (Drawing on this lenient opinion, Rav Moshe Sternbuch permits the implantation of a cornea from a non-Jewish cadaver. He combines the fact that many Poskim are lenient about a non-Jewish Mes together with the Sevara of some Poskim that permit cornea transplants altogether because since the cornea is being transplanted into a living person it is also considered to be living and therefore no benefit is being derived from a dead body).

Of course, all of this assumes that there are no laws of the land prohibiting stem cell research on fetuses. If there is, then we would be forbidden to do it because of Dina d'Malchusa Dina.

Kol Tuv,

Yonasan Sigler

This is not a Psak Halachah

Yeshayahu Hollander commented:

Rabbi Sigler, Shalom!

If some object causes Tumat Met - that does not prove that the the object has the status of a dead body. Rambam, Tum'at Met, 2:1 says that even NETZEL causes Tum'ah, and there is no issur hana'ah [or if there is, I must have missed it]!!

R. Yeshayahu HaKohen Hollander

The Kollel replies:

Does the Rambam say that there is no Isur Hana'ah on Netzel? I would assume that there is one unless stated explicitly to the contrary.

Kol Tuv,

Yonasan Sigler