The University of California, San Diego, and one of its neuroscientists have become embroiled in a national debate over the legality and ethics of using human fetal tissue to study various diseases.

The controversy escalated last week when a House committee confirmed that it plans to issue 17 subpoenas to labs, medical supply companies and others to obtain the names of scientists, graduate students and technicians who work with such tissue.

The panel earlier requested similar information from leading universities across the country, including UC San Diego, which responded with materials that were heavily redacted. More recently, UC San Diego neuroscientist Larry Goldstein appeared before the committee and was questioned sharply when he testified about the nature of such research.

Academics and abortion-rights advocates said the subpoena threat is the latest form of intimidation that could halt groundbreaking research on Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cancer, hepatitis, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, the Zika virus and other serious afflictions. They fear that identifying fetal-tissue scientists and their assistants could endanger them if anti-abortion activists were to target their homes and offices.

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