UW Medicine responds to social media posts about specimens of fetuses with anomalies

The following statement is in response to social media posts made by an anti-abortion group that shared photos taken in the Birth Defects and Research Laboratory at the University of Washington.

We acknowledge that the photographs are of a cold room at the UW School of Medicine.  There was no break-in to the locked cold room; there was an unauthorized entry into the lab in which the cold room is located.  The cold room contains specimens of fetuses with birth defects and other anomalies donated to School of Medicine scientists starting in the 1960's to help advance research into, and education about, devastating birth defects.

Originally preserved in formaldehyde, the specimens were removed from those degrading containers several years ago. They were evaluated for continued scientific and educational importance, then placed in new containers that are stored inside bags in the cold room. During this process, we determined that these specimens were no longer of scientific or educational importance and were to be respectfully cremated.

We must take certain regulatory steps before cremation and have for some time been in the process of taking those steps so that the respectful cremation can occur.  This process is common when an institution considers the continuing educational or scientific value of its historical collections.

The UW is a leader in research into birth defects and other devastating conditions that can affect the health of fetuses, all with the goal of improving the health and well-being of babies and their mothers.  We commend the families that even in their grief over losing a baby sought to further advance the health of others by donating to UW scientists studying birth defects.

Please also note that the UW School of Medicine has no relationship to an incident in Washington, DC, where five fetuses were retrieved from the home of an anti-abortion activist.

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