CMDA's The Point

Ethics, Science and Ethical Science

March 12, 2020
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by David Prentice, PhD

Should ethical considerations have a place in science and medicine? Should ethics reviews be a standard part of science proposal reviews? Some scientists have said one reason they don’t consult ethicists or think about the ethical implications of their research is because ethicists usually say “no” to new technologies or because ethics is arbitrary. But what they are really avoiding is the necessity of setting rational limits on science, thinking they can thereby avoid any limits on their work. Limits that protect all human beings—even nascent human life—are neither arbitrary nor irrational. Such limits offer essential protections against abuses that could actually tarnish the image and standing of science, and limits also provide us opportunities to appreciate our shared humanity. These limits are not barriers but rather channels to move the scientific endeavor onto more productive ground. Science and ethics are not diametrically opposed approaches. In fact, in most cases the two walk hand in hand, enjoying each other’s company and benefitting from the shared journey.

As was previously discussed regarding fetal tissue research, this controversial source of experimental material provides a prime example of the opportunities available for scientific advancement when ethical considerations are taken into account. Within the last year’s time, there has been an increased scrutiny of the use of aborted fetal tissue in experiments. Continued exposure of the ethical as well as scientific failings of fetal tissue research accompanied by examples of scientifically sound ethical alternatives, finally led to a significant policy change at the federal level. On June 5, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a decision to stop funding intramural fetal tissue research as well as a large fetal tissue research contract, to renew the commitment to fund and develop ethical alternative models, and to invoke an ethics review of extramural grant proposals that wish to use aborted fetal tissue in experiments. Under direction from HHS, the NIH subsequently issued instructions and requirements regarding grant applications that proposed using fetal tissue, for all new and renewal applications with due dates on or after September 25, 2019.

The new policy put in place gives ethics primacy in funding decisions. Besides the immediate end of some taxpayer funding for fetal tissue experiments, the ethics-based HHS decision is expected to result in better, modern science with redirection of funds to research using ethically-sourced human cells and tissues. There is already some indication that encouraging such an ethical review of the science is having this effect, with news stories playing up the angst of some researchers who formerly used aborted fetal tissue, but who are still moving away from including the unethical source of tissue in their grant proposals.

The focus now turns to the ethical review panel invoked by HHS in June 2019. After a pre-announcement regarding its formation, HHS formally published a notice of the establishment of the ethical review committee. This ethics review board has been in statute for decades, but it has never been convened until now. As noted in statute, the Secretary of HHS convenes the committee to advise on the ethics of the research proposals, not the science. The ethics board will be composed of scientists (no more than half of the committee), ethicists, attorneys, theologians and practicing physicians, for a total of 15 members. And again, their focus is to be on the ethics of the research. Their report is due to the Secretary by late summer.

Some have already proclaimed doom and gloom, with millions dying, if aborted fetal tissue research does not continue. Such ludicrous, contemptible fear-mongering is a thinly-veiled attempt to cling to taxpayer dollars for unethical research. The truth needs to be heard by all. Ethical science is better science, benefits us all, lifts us higher and should be our goal.

David Prentice, PhD

About David Prentice, PhD

David A. Prentice is Vice President and Research Director for the Charlotte Lozier Institute. He is also Adjunct Professor of Molecular Genetics at the John Paul II Institute, The Catholic University of America and was a Founding Advisory Board Member for the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, a unique comprehensive stem cell center in Kansas that he was instrumental in creating. In 2020, he was appointed by the Secretary of HHS to the federal Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board. Dr. Prentice has over 40 years’ experience as a scientific researcher and professor, including previous service as senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, Professor of Life Sciences at Indiana State University, and Adjunct Professor of Medical and Molecular Genetics, Indiana University School of Medicine. He established Stem Cell Research Facts, an educational website providing scientific facts and patient-centered videos about adult stem cells, and is a founding member of Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, and an advisory board member for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. He has provided scientific advice for numerous medical professionals, legislators, policymakers and organizations at the state, federal, and international levels. Dr. Prentice received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Kansas, and was at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Texas Medical School-Houston before joining Indiana State University where in addition to his research and teaching, he served as Acting Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and Assistant Chair of Life Sciences. He was recognized with the University’s Caleb Mills Distinguished Teaching Award and Faculty Distinguished Service Award. He has taught courses ranging from non-majors biology to advanced and graduate courses including developmental biology, embryology, cell and tissue culture, history of biology, science and politics, pathophysiology, medical genetics, and medical biochemistry. Several of his courses were also taught on-line. He received the 2007 Walter C. Randall Award in Biomedical Ethics from the American Physiological Society, given for promoting the honor and integrity of biomedical science through example and mentoring in the classroom and laboratory. Dr. Prentice’s research interests encompass various aspects of cell growth control, cell and developmental biology; one major focus is adult stem cells. He has reviewed for various professional publications including The Journal of the American Medical Association. He is an internationally-recognized expert on stem cell research, cell biology and bioethics, and has provided scientific lectures and policy briefings in 40 states and 21 countries, including testimony before the U.S. Congress and numerous state legislatures, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the President’s Council on Bioethics, European Parliament, British Parliament, Canadian Parliament, Australian Parliament, German Bundestag, French Senate, Swedish Parliament, the United Nations, and the Vatican. He was selected by President George W. Bush’s U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics to write the comprehensive review of adult stem cell research for the Council’s 2004 publication “Monitoring Stem Cell Research.” Dr. Prentice has published numerous scientific and bioethics articles, including a recent review of stem cell science and adult stem cell treatments published in Circulation Research. He has also published numerous commentaries and op-eds, and travels nationally and internationally to give frequent invited lectures regarding stem cell research, fetal tissue research, gene editing, cloning, embryology, cell culture and vaccines, bioethics, and public policy. He has been interviewed in virtually all major electronic and print media outlets, including CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CSPAN, Reuters, AP, NPR, USA Today, BBC, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times.


  1. Avatar DR P EDWARDS CONRAD on April 2, 2020 at 7:21 am

    Thanks for spearheading the Ethics research at CMDA; please consider creating a ‘registry’ of unethical matters, including numerous ‘under the radar’ tactics being used by the antichrist to defame, slander and/or discredit people who believe Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1) …their ‘book’ says in John 1:1 ‘…and the word was ‘a god’ …’ with a small ‘g’.