Bioethics Blogs

A Role for Clinical Ethics Consultants in Stem Cell Tourism

Recently Dr. Christopher Thomas Scott of Stanford
University wrote a great paper titled “The Case of Stem Cell Counselors” in
Stem Cell Reports which draws parallels
from the field of genetic counseling arguing for the need for stem cell
counsellors (1). Scott outlines that due to increases in the number of stem
cell trials combined with fraudulent therapies being offered around the world,
the time is ripe for having counsellors help patients navigate the clinical
stem cell research/therapy landscape. These experts can help patients identify
and distinguish legitimate trials from unproven interventions, explain the
risks, benefits and therapeutic options, and serve as a resource to provide
them with educational information.

On a related topic, my colleagues and I at AMBI were
going to write a paper arguing that clinical ethics consultants should be
involved in countering the impact of stem cell tourism and serve as a resource
for patients who are contemplating undertaking an unproven stem cell based
intervention (SCBI). We thought that clinical ethics consultants are in a
unique position to offer advice and counselling to patients seeking unproven SCBIs
for a few reasons.

First, clinical ethics consultants are trusted by
patients. While holding institutional affiliation with a hospital or treatment
center, they function at arms distance length from the clinical team and so
patients may regard them as unbiased and trustworthy. Especially because
clinical ethics consultants may form a strong relationship with patients, ethics
consultants may be in a unique position to convey warnings about unproven
SCBIs. There is some empirical data suggesting that patients are distrustful of
the medical team and the research enterprise as being unresponsive to their

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.