Bioethics, ethics for sale, politics, public policy, research ethics

Ethicists for hire (Revised)

A  long time ago, there were some enterprising scientists and doctors who wanted to clone animals and humans and send out press releases and make money.

Since they were scientists and doctors, and very smart, they recognized the need to cover themselves in case anyone objected to the births of sick animals and the creation and destruction of human embryos (as well as terminology – these are the first to claim to achieve “therapeutic cloning”).

Anyway, in an effort to prove that they were doing nothing wrong, the scientists hired some ethicists and made sure the ethicists were agreeable. Unfortunately, even smart scientists and doctors can forget how competitive and fussy those people can be even when cloning and embryo destruction are involved.

Some of (their) bioethicists, including Glenn McGee, PhD (editor of the original version of The Human Cloning Debate, Berkley Hills Books, 2000. This book is no longer in print, but it was the first book I bought that had “As Seen on Oprah” on the cover.) and Art Caplan, PhD (co-editor with Dr. McGee of the 2006 version of The Human Cloning Debate ) even resigned!

An October, 2001 article in Christianity Today, titled “Psst! Wanna buy a bioethicist?” noted:

Indeed, this year two of the nation’s most prominent bioethicists resigned in protest from the Advanced Cell Technology ethics advisory board. One of them, the University of Pennsylvania’s Arthur Caplan, said that while ACT was using his name (and paying dearly for it), it wasn’t seeking his advice. And after he resigned, Glenn McGee, also from the University of Pennsylvania, called corporate ethics boards “rubber stamps” created to give companies an aura of acceptability.

Ronald M. Green did not resign. He is still the ACT bioethics spokesman:

“I think this will become a standard way of producing stem cell lines,” said Ronald M. Green, a Dartmouth College professor of religion who is an unpaid bioethics adviser to Advanced Cell Technology.”

It’s not often that technology offers a solution to an ethical dilemma, but this could be one,” says bioethicist Ronald Green of Dartmouth’s Ethics Institute, a member of ACT’s unpaid research advisory panel.

In the world of Ethics advisory and review, “unpaid” can mean anything from $200 a day per diem plus expenses, to millions of dollars for the advisor’s institution.

The smart scientists’ company, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), has been in the news this week claiming that two embryonic stem cell lines created by removing lots of cells from 16 newly thawed and nurtured human IVF embryos (which were then destroyed) proves that embryonic stem cell lines can be produced by removing a single cell from an unharmed human embryo that can then be implanted and grow up to be a consumer of biotechnology.

ACT’s leadership includes former Geron founder and owner of the patent for the use of telomerase in the cloning of Dolly the Sheep, CEO Michael West, PhD, and Robert Lanza, MD, vice president.

Few remember that Advanced Cell Technologies began life as a company that practiced agricultural animal reproduction for research and profit.

The New York Times described ACT in 1998 as a startup biotech firm wholly owned by Avian Farms, a Maine poultry genetics company. ACT currently lists three subsidiaries of its own — Cyagra, for work with livestock; Cima Biotechnology, which focuses on avian cloning; and Em Tran (short for Embryo Transfer), which applies genetic research to the interests of cattle breeders.

Fewer still noted the repeated criticism of ACT’s tactics and ethics scandal of 2001,

“However, a former member of ACT’s own ethics committee called the announcement “nothing but hype” and said that “they are doing science by press release”.”

and then correlate it with similar criticism in 2006,

In a rare moment of consensus on the controversial issue of embryonic stem cells, even supporters of therapeutic cloning dismissed Lanza’s work. “A pitiful attempt to look morally acceptable, rather than do valuable science,” sneered Glenn McGee, editor of the American Journal of Bioethics.

One of the best comments comes from an excerpt from an email said to be from Art Caplan and posted at BodyHack, a blog at Wired News: “this is not quite as much hype as the killer of jon benet ramsey but it is close!” (sic)

A deeper look into the history of bioethicists and their corporate connections reveals that not only Green, but virtually all of the usual suspects in the field have risked Carl Elliott’s charge that bioethicists are “show dogs” and that it’s “Better to buy a bioethicist now than to be attacked by one later. The only challenge is how to disguise the job so that bioethicists do not realize that they have been bought.”

(See, “Bioethicists find themselves the ones being scrutinized,” by Sheryl Gay Stohlberg, originally published in the August 2, 2001 New York Times., “And now, ethics for sale? Bioethicists and big buck. Problem city?” By Nell Boyce , originally published July, 2001 in US News., and Carl Elliott, “Pharma Buys a Conscience,” The American Prospect vol. 12 no. 17, September 24, 2001 – October 8, 2001.

I’ve noted the inbred closeness of various policy making bodies in the past. (Here and here.)

However, knowing about the connection between Green, Caplan, and McGee at West’s ACT, Laurie Zoloth’s advisory position at West’s former company, Geron, Robin Alta Charo’s advisory position at WiCell (begun with the help of Geron) and Caplan’s advising position at another partner of Geron, Celera Genomics, perhaps all the criticism of Green and ACT is simply sibling rivalry.

November 20, 2007: Edited to add Labels.

November 20, 2008 repost and rewrite on the appointment of Jonathan Moreno and Alta Charo to the (newly created) Office of the President Elect transition team.

About bnuckols

Conservative Christian Family Doctor, promoting conservative news and views. (Hot Air under the right wing!)

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