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Indiana fetal remains bill puts spotlight on fetal disposal

February 21, 2016

A debate over an Indiana bill that would require that aborted or miscarried fetuses to be cremated or interred is drawing attention to how fetal tissue is disposed of in the state.

Sen. Michael Young, a Republican from Indianapolis who's sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said the fetus provision is needed in light of state regulators' recent fine against a medical waste disposal company that violated its state permit by accepting fetal remains.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management found that Indianapolis-based MedAssure of Indiana LLC accepted some shipments of medical waste that included fetal remains, in violation of its permit, from a St. Louis-based company over a more than three-year period ending in January.

Young said at a recent news conference that he thinks cremation and interment are the only humane and dignified ways to dispose of a fetus.

"We can do something for the dignity of these little babies that have lost their lives and at least dispose of them in the most humane way possible," he said in touting the bill authored by state Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne.

Joe Delloiacovo, MedAssure's executive vice president for regulatory affairs, said Young inaccurately described the circumstances involving the company's permit violation. He said the fetal tissue MedAssure accepted in some shipments from Pathology Services Inc. were not actual fetuses but thumbnail-sized tissue samples taken from aborted fetuses for pathology testing that Missouri requires.

He said the tissue was shipped to MedAssure "unbeknownst to us" after the company obtained its contract with Pathology Services through an acquisition. That contract "basically fell through the cracks" and did not have language barring shipments of fetal tissue to MedAssure, he said, adding that the contract has since been altered to exclude fetal tissue shipments.

Delloiacovo said MedAssure, in seeking its state permit, had requested that its permit prohibit it from accepting any fetal tissue among the medical waste sent to it for sterilization with microwaves and steam before another company incinerates that treated waste.

"That was a self-imposed provision. We did not want to get involved in the politics of abortion, so our position was that we would just not take any fetal remains," he said.

IDEM fined MedAssure $11,250 for its permit violation, but the state agency lowered that fine to $9,000 because the company cooperated with regulators.

Four Indiana medical waste disposal companies currently hold state permits that allow them to accept fetal remains among that medical waste, said IDEM spokeswoman Courtney Arango.

Most states treat fetal tissue from an abortion as medical waste because it's typically considered to be infectious or potentially infectious, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a not-for-profit group that supports legal access to abortion.

She said requiring fetal remains to be cremated or interred would be unusual, but that other states have similar legislation pending, including Ohio.

Cox's bill passed the Indiana House on Feb. 2 by a 74-23 vote and is now before the Senate's Health and Provider Services Committee.

Committee chairwoman Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, said the panel would consider amendments to the bill at this week's meeting. She said that could include provisions from a Senate-approved bill that would ban abortions if the provider knows the procedure is being sought because of the fetus' gender or a genetic disability, if that bill doesn't get a hearing in the House.

House Public Policy Committee Chairman Tom Dermody said he was "a hundred percent pro-life" but would not commit to scheduling that bill for a hearing because his panel is focused on other bills that face a Feb. 29 deadline for committee action.

"There's no decision made on what we're going to do next week because obviously we're running out of time," the LaPorte Republican said Thursday.

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