As an example, Annas cites the case of “Baby Fae” (not her real name), who died in 1984 soon after doctors replaced her defective heart with a baboon’s heart. Although all available evidence indicated that cross-species transplants could not succeed, the doctors who performed the surgery had received approval from their hospital’s IRB. A subsequent review found that Baby Fae’s parents had not given truly informed consent because the doctors had not suggested seeking a human transplant, had disparaged available surgical treatments, and had unreasonably encouraged the parents to believe that a baboon transplant could succeed.
Similarly, the requirement that medical research be approved by bioethics committees has in some cases led researchers to confuse ethics with regulation. For example, in one recent study, neuroscientists were asked, “What role do ethical concerns play in how you set up the research?” Nearly half gave answers like the one given by the following scientist:
I don’t think it really affected anything I do. It made me think about things that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about, like insurance and what happens if things go wrong. . . . But in terms of the actual study, I think I just set it up as I wanted to do it, and then obviously sent it off to Ethics and it was all fine. So there was nothing that Ethics and the ethical procedure stopped me from doing that I wanted to do.