As basic biomedical research affords us deeper insight into fundamental biological processes and the growing ability to manipulate these processes, our social and ethical norms become increasingly challenged. Gene sequencing, DNA banking, manipulation of microbial genomes, studies of human genetic variation, and the growth of academic-industry ties all raise important questions about whether and how genetic research should proceed. Despite the gravity of such issues, there has been little consideration about how to translate work in research ethics into practical guidance for scientists before their research is planned and conducted. More typically, societal implications are considered only after the research is completed, thereby limiting the range of effective policy options.
In response to these challenges, CIRGE has developed the Benchside Ethics Consultation Service (BECS) to aid members of the genetics community in proactively identifying and responding to ethical, legal and social issues that may arise in their research. This new paradigm for integrating ethics and biomedical research provides a way for individual investigators to preemptively anticipate and attend to the downstream effects of their studies and for scientific communities overall to more judiciously guide the path of future research and discovery. The program builds on the research strengths of a variety of genetics and non-genetics departments on the Stanford campus and on the strengths of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics (SCBE), which is unique in its expertise in ethical issues related to the conduct of basic biomedical research.
The aim of BECS is to be a model of service and education to genetics researchers by assisting in the resolution of ethical dilemmas and concerns that may develop in the laboratory or clinical setting. Bioethical considerations are most useful if undertaken alongside or before scientific development occurs; therefore, BECS offers real-time discussions, analyses and conflict resolutions for researchers to explore current or anticipated ethical issues in their studies.
It should be noted that BECS is distinct from the general Research Ethics Consultation Service offered by SCBE and from the Clinical Consultation Service provided by the Stanford Hospital and Clinics Ethics Committee. BECS deals exclusively with questions arising from laboratory and clinical genetic research and only provides consultation outside of that field for requests that strongly hinge on issues relevant to the pursuance, policy or conduct of genetic research as a whole.
For more information, please read:
Pilcher, H. Bioethics: Dial 'E' for Ethics. Nature, 2006. 440:1104-5. Full text
Who Can Access the Benchside Ethics Consultation Service?
BECS is available to any member of the Stanford University community. Requests may come from:
Research investigators (the PI or anyone on the research team)
Research study participants
Stanford faculty, staff, scholars, students and medical professionals
Institutional Review Boards
Regulatory committees and other institutional bodies
Who Staffs the Benchside Ethics Consultation Service?
BECS staff are Stanford University faculty and members of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. They are experts in research ethics and regulation, and they represent a wide range of disciplines including biomedical research, genetics, law and philosophy.
Is the Benchside Ethics Consultation Service Confidential?
Yes; the identities of those requesting consultations and all research data, ideas and ethical issues are confidential. With permission of the investigators, de-identified descriptions of cases may be requested for educational purposes.
What are the Scope and Limitations of the Benchside Ethics Consultation Service?
Requests that fall under the direct regulation and/or recommendation of another institutional body (such as the FDA, IRB, University Conflict of Interest Committee or OMBUDS offices) will be referred to the appropriate group for further consideration. For example, BECS is not meant to supersede the IRB or adjudicate cases of scientific misconduct.
For particularly complex or involved requests, the BECS team may solicit the advice and guidance of an outside group.
Not all cases can or will be dealt with collaboratively; it will depend on the scope and breadth of a particular request and what is reasonably agreed upon by the BECS team and the researchers calling the consultation.
Is There a Fee for Using the Benchside Ethics Consultation Service?
If you would prefer to call to request a consultation, please provide your full name, a brief description of your dilemma and the best way to reach you. If possible, your message will be responded to between 8:00am and 5:00pm the following day. Consultations are scheduled weekdays during normal business hours.
BECS is located within the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics at 1215 Welch Road, Modular A, Stanford, CA 94305.
Cho M.K., Tobin S.L., Greely H.T., McCormick J., Boyce A., and D. Magnus. Research ethics consultation: the Stanford experience. IRB: Ethics & Human Research, 2008. 30(6):1-6. PMID: 19119757
Cho M.K., Tobin S.L., Greely H.T., McCormick J., Boyce A. and D. Magnus. Response to open peer commentaries on "Strangers at the benchside: research ethics consultation." Am J Bioeth, 2008. 8:4-6. doi: 10.1080/15265160802132951.
Cho M.K., Tobin S.L., Greely H.T., McCormick J., Boyce A., and D. Magnus. Strangers at the benchside: research ethics consultation. Am J Bioeth, 2008. 8(3): 4-13. PMID: 18570086
Cho M.K., Iltis A.S., de Melo-Martin I. and N. Fost. Research ethics consultation: an emerging role for bioethicists, in American Society of Bioethics and Humanities 10th annual meeting. 2008: Cleveland, OH.
Cho M.K. The Benchside Ethics Consultation Service: A model of un-governance for genomic research, in Ontario Genome Institute and University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. 2008: Toronto, Canada. (Invited Presentation).
Cho M.K. Ethics in Action: Models for Oversight, in Wellcome Trust. 2008: London, UK. (Invited Presentation).
Cho M., Magnus D., Aulisio M., Berg J. and F. Collins. "Benchside" ethics consultation for biomedical research, in American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. 2006: St Louis, MO.