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Keywords:

  • stem cells;
  • fetuses;
  • abortion;
  • medical work;
  • Britain

Abstract

Tissue derived from the aborted fetus is considered ‘the right tool for the job’ in some stem cell laboratories. Relatively little is known of the arrangements in Britain for sourcing aborted fetuses for research purposes. This paper uses data from interviews with stem cell scientists, policy makers, tissue bankers, sponsors of stem cell research, clinicians and nurses, and ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ activists to reconstruct the work involved in reconfiguring an ‘unwanted’ pregnancy into a source of fetal stem cells. A close scrutiny of the work allows the politics of collections to emerge. Aborted fetuses undergo a process of decorporealisation that enables scientists to claim them for their professional and economic advantage. The work, however, has consequences for women rhetorically through being reconfigured into a repository of usable fetal tissue, and, in some sites, materially, through alteration in method of abortion.