Stanford Bioethics Consultants for "Research Ethics" Include Weissman and NIH as Their Clients - Connect the Dots

Dianne N. Irving
Former career appointment, bench researcher, NIH (NCI)
Professor of the History of Philosophy, Medical Ethics, and Bioethics
Copyright February 20, 2006
Reproduced with Permission

I. Introduction**

The article copied below from Genetic and Engineering News about California's Stanford Bioethics Consultants is an interesting study in "connecting the dots". ("Stanford Ethics Consulting Helps Researchers Navigate Sensitive Issues", Genetic and Engineering News, Feb. 18, 2006). It begins with understanding that Stanford University has been a major seat of bioethics and nationally recognized bioethics consultants for years, not to mention the home of several Noble Prize winners, such as Weissman supporter (and eugenicist) Paul Berg, the father of genetic engineering.

II. Bioethics

No surprise then that the "ethics" used to "educate" and guide Stanford's new research clients, who include cloning physician Irving Weissman (California Proposition 71), and the NIH, on how to do "ethical" research is the same dysfunctional non-neutral relativistic preference utilitarian consensus "bioethics" mélange created out of thin air by the 1978 Belmont Report on mandate of the U. S. Congress (1974 National Research Act). As the over three-decades of bioethics literature itself will attest, what bioethics "theory" considers "ethical" remains highly academically contestable, even within its own ranks. Yet it continues to be used. One also has to wonder about using a "federal ethics" in a private university, much less in a multicultural, pluralistic, democratic society. Isn't that an oxymoron?

As the article confirms, this Stanford bioethics "consulting" effort is simply the latest application to scientific research of the older "Hospital Ethics Committees" (HECs) and "Institutional Review Boards" (IRBs) likewise concocted by bioethics over 20 years ago as applied to the practice of medicine and the approval of medical clinical trials. The very same OHRP federal regulations (formerly OPRR regulations, also mandated by the National Research Act and accomplished in 1981) will apply to all. This means that OHRP's two false scientific definitions of "fetus" and "pregnancy" - both of which are erroneously defined as "beginning at implantation" -- will continue to be used as the basis of these research ethics consults - a legacy, the bioethics lawyers and designers of the OPRR federal regulations concede, from the "scientific" definitions used in the National Research Act. The consequence is that in all of these bioethics "committees" and "consults" there is no human embryo there through 8 weeks of embryonic development - in vitro or in vivo. Which is to say, the term "human subject of research" simply doesn't apply to them, since legally they don't exist. How's that for stare decisis?

The entire issue of intentionally producing and then killing innocent living human beings at their earliest developmental stages - through 8 weeks - has thereby been neatly legally dodged. Indeed, the article doesn't even mention this as a "research ethics" issue for human cloning and stem cell research. Guess we know how those "benchside" ethics consults will come out.

III. Science

Not only has bioethics made the living human embryo legally disappear, their scientists have also helped to make it scientifically disappear by using very deceptive "scientific" euphemisms (much the same way this has been done for years in the IVF and abortion debates). The Weissman/NIH "science" used in the human cloning and human embryonic stem cell research issues is - and I think that there is no other word for it -- fraudulent. Weissman et al are long time fans of the "pre-embryo" and its various "substitutes" - having learned this fraud long ago from one of the "pre-embryo" originators, frog embryologist Clifford Grobstein - also from Stanford University, and member of the NIH Ethics Committee for years (along with Jesuit Richard McCormick). Both Grobstein and McCormick were also chairmen of various other "ethics committees", such as the American Fertility Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, both of which enshrined the "pre-embryo" early on in their deliberations and policies.

Weissman et al continue the "pre-embryo" legacy by insisting, even in testimonies before Congress, courts and state legislatures, that there is no human embryo involved in fertilization (sexual human reproduction). Rather, they claim, the product of fertilization is just a bunch of cells, not an embryo - thus bypassing the Dickey Amendment which (supposedly) prohibited human embryo research, and pleasing IVF researchers to no end.

Similarly, in the asexual human reproduction debates, Weissman et al continue to make the early human embryo disappear - either by using the term "pre-embryo", or by boldly claiming that the "embryo" itself is just a bunch of cells. For years now they have flooded these debates with a bizarre barrage of flat-out crazy "science fiction" that they continue to get away with: Human "cloning" is defined only in terms of "therapeutic" and "reproductive", and involves only somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) - thus making all other forms of human cloning simply disappear from the debates (e.g., germ line cell nuclear transfer (GLCNT) "twinning", "blastomere separation", "blastocyst splitting", parthenogenesis, hemi-cloning, pronuclei transfer, etc.). Even "therapeutic" cloning is not cloning for them; only "reproductive" cloning is cloning (and only if the "product" is born). The immediate product of "therapeutic" cloning is just a "cell" (not a single-cell human organism, a human being, the human zygote), and the 5-7 day "embryo" at the blastocyst stage from whom they derive "stem cells" is "just a ball of cells" (not a 5-7 day old human being). So all they are doing is "stem cell research" - not cloning! Now this same "science fiction" is enshrined in cloning and stem cell research laws in states across the country, as well as in the National Academy of Science's official reports on human cloning and human embryonic stem cell research. How's that for stare decisis?

NIH's "science" doesn't fare much better, given that then - Director Harold Varmus testified before Congress that the immediate product of fertilization (sexual reproduction) is just a "totipotent stem cell", and that the early human embryo is just a group of "totipotent stem cells" (at least he got the "totipotent" right). Indeed, Varmus testified before Congress that there is no human being present until it develops to the adult stage! Naturally, the charts on the official NIH website incorporate these science fiction "facts" - as do the later NIH Guidelines on Stem Cell Research. What amazing official gobbledygook the NIH offers to the millions of interested professionals, journalists and curious visitors who go to that website for an "education" and as a source for their own work. No wonder, then, that Weissman links his articles on human cloning and human embryonic stem cell research to NIH on his Stanford University website.

And the rest of the world is supposed to just accept and believe all this science fiction? South Korean scientist Hwang purportedly falsified his data, corrupted the science and global literature of human cloning for stem cells, destroyed his and his entire team's careers, dashed the hopes of millions of sick patients, manipulated women and co-workers to get access to their "eggs", misused millions of private and public funds, and dragged his university and government through a very public ordeal of historic proportions, and yet nothing has been done for 30 years here in the United States about the same kind of science fiction? Wouldn't you think that these "scientific experts" should at least have to take legally binding oaths before testifying that the science they are presenting as "experts" is the most objectively true and currently accurate - instead of science fiction? Are they really oblivious to the fact that science has known for over a hundred years that the immediate product of fertilization is a new genetically unique single-cell living human embryo, a human being -- and that the "pre-embryo" (and thus any of its various and ingenious "substitutes") has been formally rejected by the international nomenclature on human embryology for a long time now? The whole thing does set one to pondering just how and why they continue to get away with it, and who have been responsible for allowing it?

IV. Push the logic

Aside from the fact that such "bioethics" still cannot be seriously academically defended, consider the logical and real in-the-flesh consequences to which it has led when transferred to other, seemingly unrelated issues. Based on bioethics "principles", their "delayed personhood" ruse, and the plethora of science fiction they have accommodated and empowered, all of the following are generally considered "ethical" and "legal" by bioethics: the use of abortifacients, pre-natal genetic diagnosis, all forms of IVF and other artificial reproductive technologies (including cloning), abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, living donor organ transplants, futile care, unethical research with the mentally ill and many other vulnerable human subject populations, and the list goes on. This doesn't even include human embryo research, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, human genetic engineering, and human nanotechnology.

V. Conclusion

When human embryologist Dr. Ward C. Kischer and I co-authored a book several years ago entitled, The Human Development Hoax: Time To Tell The Truth! (1995, revised 1997), we referred to the false science being used then and the decades before in the human embryo research debates as "the hoax of the century". We could have never imagined in our wildest dreams the explosion of false and decadent science that was to come in the human cloning and human embryonic stem cell research debates - what I would call "the hoax of the millennium". Enough is enough. This has got to stop.

Oh, by the way, did you happen to notice that the article about Standford's Bioethics Consultants on research "ethics" is published in a genetic engineering journal?

Connect the dots.

** For extensive historical, philosophical, bioethics and scientific references for the above comments, please see the Irving Library, at

Genetic and Engineering News
February 18, 2006

Stanford Ethics Consulting Helps Researchers Navigate Sensitive Issues

Grant proposal? Check.

Laboratory equipment? Check.

Ethical consultation? Huh?

Few basic-science researchers routinely gather information on the ethical aspects of their work, but a pioneering program at the Stanford University School of Medicine is helping scientists navigate the minefield of sensitive issues surrounding biomedical research.

The "benchside" consultation program offered by the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics helps researchers identify the ethical and social impacts of their work. In addition, the ethicists suggest ways to minimize risks and maximize benefits to society.

"We see this as a service to researchers, in the same way that a biostatisician can help them," said center director David Magnus, PhD, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics. "We can help them avoid situations that have tended to arise in the past and that could haunt them if they're not careful."

Magnus and associate center director Mildred Cho, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics, will discuss the Stanford program Feb. 18 in St. Louis during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Cho is moderating the session, titled "Benchside ethics consultation for biomedical research."

Benchside consultations are similar to the long-standing practice of bedside consultations in which ethicists help clinicians wrestle with difficult decisions involving patient care, such as end-of-life issues.

Stanford is one of the few medical schools in the country to launch a benchside consultation program to help scientists deal with such ethical matters as study design, conflict-of-interest concerns and questions raised by regulatory bodies.

The program's most prominent client to date is Irving Weissman, MD, director of Stanford's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. A few years ago, Weissman asked for the ethicists' recommendations about creating animal models to study human brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, that do not normally occur in animals. To do that, he posed the possibility of inserting human neural stem cells into the brains of mice, thereby creating a chimera -- an organism made up of two genetically distinct types of cells.

The ethicists researched the case and advised him as to the conditions under which such work could proceed. For instance, they suggested that Weissman conduct the least controversial work first and move slowly to ensure that the brains in the mice didn't take on human characteristics. Weissman said he currently has no plans to proceed with such research, but felt it was important to think through the ethical concerns.

Cho said that since the fall of 2005, seven Stanford researchers have asked for benchside consults. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health has tapped Stanford's ethics experts for advice on four studies being considered for funding.

The Stanford program has developed a database of readings and case studies related to the ethical conduct of basic research as well as a list of core competencies that other universities could use to build their own benchside consulting program, Cho said.

But Magnus pointed out that simply having a consulting program isn't enough. Scientists must buy into the value of exploring the ethical issues surrounding their work. "We want postdocs and graduate students and faculty members to see this as an important part of their research," he said. "We want it to permeate the culture of their labs."

Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions -- Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center's Office of Communication & Public Affairs at

CONTACT: Stanford University Medical Center Susan Ipaktchian, 650-725-5375 (Print Media) M.A. Malone, 650-723-6912 (Broadcast Media)