Request an Ethics Consultation – Benchside


The Spectrum Biomedical Ethics program is handled by the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics (SCBE). SCBE is dedicated to interdisciplinary research and education in biomedical ethics, and provides clinical and research ethics consultations.

Research on medical practices:
Contact Information

Mildred Cho, PhD
Co-Leader Spectrum Bioethics Program

The Benchside Ethics Consultation Service (BECS) assists investigators with ethical issues in the design of conduct of a study. For example, a consultation could help with:

  • analyzing the impacts of a particular policy on the conduct of bench science.
  • identifying the ethical or social impacts of conducting a particular line of research.
  • suggesting specific actions to minimize risks and maximize benefits to society of pursuing that line of research.

The program allows for proactive identification of important ethical and policy issues in biomedical research. Through early and direct interactions among ethicists, philosophers, social scientists, lawyers, biomedical scientists and others, BECS aims to facilitate discussions with researchers about as-yet-undefined, cutting-edge science as it unfolds.

Stanford University faculty and members of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics staff the service. They are experts in research ethics and regulation, and they represent a wide range of disciplines including biomedical research, genetics, law and philosophy.

Who can use the consultation service?

Any member of the Stanford University community, including:

  • Research investigators (the PI or anyone on the research team), study participants, coordinators
  • Stanford faculty, staff, scholars, students and medical professionals
  • Institutional Review Boards
  • Regulatory committees and other institutional bodies


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.

Scope and limitations of the 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, the consultation service is not meant to supersede the IRB or adjudicate cases of scientific misconduct.

For particularly complex or involved requests, the consultation 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 consultation team and the researchers calling the consultation.

Kinds of research that would be recommended for an ethics consultation

Anyone can request an ethics consultation to get answers to ethical, social, or legal issues that they think might be related to the conduct or implications of their research. The service is not designed to replace the Human Subjects Panel, the Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee, or any other institutional or regulatory body. Some categories of biomedical research raise issues about which there is no clear policy or ethical consensus or that are not addressed by existing regulations.

Examples include:

  • Research that could generate incidental findings
  • Research that could generate findings of clinical significance to individual research participants
  • Tissue/DNA banking
  • Research in less developed countries
  • Community engagement in research
  • Stem cell research
  • Pediatric research that is likely to pose more than minimal risk
  • Research on identified racial/ethnic groups, and/or indigenous peoples
  • Research that is not broadly socially accepted

How consultations are supported

BECS was established as part of CIRGE with a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the US Department of Energy (DOE). It is also supported by Spectrum, which is funded, in part, by the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award.

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