Sunday, February 27, 2005

Ethics: From Compensation to Informed Consent

Bio-ethicist Alta Charo will be speaking this week to the California stem cell agency, and the topic will not be "Star Trek," although she is fond enough of the program to mention it on her web site.

Going where no University of Wisconsin law professor has gone before (which is in front of CIRM), Charo expects to discuss possible creation of a stem cell bank by the agency, among other matters. In remarks prepared to be distributed to Oversight Committee members, she said:

“Forming a physical or virtual stem cell bank could be of great value to the community of researchers in California (and indeed, the nation and the world). Facilitating the task of documenting the ethical standards under which lines were derived will help collaborators to work more efficiently, given the variations in national and international research rules in this field. In addition, a cell bank could set standards for the quality of the characterizations and the accompanying medical information associated with the lines.”

Charo's main thrust, in her prepared material, is to raise questions that should be answered as CIRM begins its funding of research. The areas she touched on include human subject protection, informed consent, patient privacy, compensation bans and possible establishment of an additional committee.

“While most institutions have the committees required by federal law for currently mandated reviews (including IRBs for human subjects protections; Privacy Boards for HIPAA protections; IBCs for recombinant DNA research; IACUCs for animal research) few have any committee specially created to monitor and coordinate compliance with these mandates by hES cell researchers,” she wrote. “Nor do many have a special committee to register the level of activity at the institution, to offer investigator training in stem cell research ethics, or to serve as a venue for discussion, review or even approval of potentially problematic forms of the research. A key question, then, is whether CIRM wishes to encourage or require institutions to create such committees, or whether it plans to have CIRM provide one centrally for all CIRM-funded research. In the alternative, this question could be left entirely to the discretion of individual institutions, who could set up such committees, designate existing committees to expand their functions to incorporate some of these tasks, or simply do without such added oversight entirely.”

Charo is Elizabeth S. Wilson - Bascom Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she is on the faculty of the Law School and the Medical School's Department of Medical History and Bioethics.

Her web site shows a long and distinguished career and demonstrates a certain lightness. On it, she reports that she is fond of Star Trek, poker, roller coasters, old movies and salsa music and includes links to appropriate sites in those areas.
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