Tissue consent an issue

News  Edmonton Sun. Monday, 19 February 2001.

Paul Cowan

Ethics council says military should have parental approval to use foreskin

An Alberta-based military research team using newborns' foreskins for chemical warfare research and the doctors who supply the raw material should have the parents' consent first, the president of the  External link National Council on Ethics in Human Research told The Edmonton Sun.

One of the Medicine Hat doctors involved in providing the foreskins to the  External link Defence Research Establishment at CFB Suffield said parents were only told about the fate of the flesh if they asked.

But Dr. Jan Storch, the president of the ethics council, said that isn't good enough.

About 10 years ago excess tissue was regarded as something that was quite useable for research purposes without asking consent, she said.

But the climate has changed and now the guidelines are that, as a mark of respect, permission should be sought to use the tissue for research.

I would think any university researcher applying to one of the granting authorities who did not follow the guidelines would be refused funding.

The head of the chemical and biological warfare defence section at Suffield, Dr. Cam Boulet, said the project had been passed by both the ethics committee at the base and the Medicine Hat hospital about 10 years ago.

The hospital is responsible for supplying the tissue, but in view of what you have told me, we will be revisiting the arrangement, he told The Sun.

Until now I haven't been aware of a concern, but it is our policy to be as open as possible about our work.

The Suffield scientists use cell scrapings from foreskins supplied by the hospital to grow cell cultures.

The cultures are then used to test antidotes to various chemical weapons.

Boulet estimated around 50 to 100 foreskins were used every year for the research over the last decade.

Storch, director of the school of nursing at  External link Victoria University in B.C., said it appeared the project had been approved before the guidelines on human tissue use and the need for express consent from donors were clarified.

This one appears to have slipped by so far but perhaps someone should look at it again in the light of current ethical thinking, she said.

Medicine Hat is 600 km south of Edmonton.


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