Since I first posted on the operation just up the road in the Houston suburbs called Celltex--
--a good deal has happened and I thought it a good idea briefly to update.
The first big event was that Dr. Glenn McGee, the bioethicist who stared the controversy within that field by taking a job as "President of Ethics" for Celltex, abruptly resigned:
Dr. McGee reportedly promised in a tweet, "I am preparing timely, lengthy, pointed comments on the whole matter." The world is awaiting that interesting document.
The next development of note is that Dr. Leigh Turner, one of two University of Minnesota bioethicists most involved in launching criticisms of the McGee-Celltex affair, wrote to the FDA to request a formal investigation of Celltex's practices. As you can see from his letter:
--he offers a well-documented and dispassionate statement that avoids making any claims but simply asks that matters be looked into. He does not, for example, say that Celltex is not only banking clients' stem cells (as they claim) but is also injecting the stem cells (as they deny). He merely points to publicity that would suggest the latter and asks the FDA to look into it.
Chapter 3 in the recent saga is the letter that Celltex's attorneys wrote to the University of Minnesota:
The firm notes that Dr. Turner wrote his letter to the FDA on University stationery, identifying himself as a faculty member in the Center for Bioethics. The attorneys ask if this means that Dr. Turner was qualified to speak on behalf of the University. If not they demand that the U. "disclaim any sponsorship of the Turner letter, retract the letter, remove the letter from the internet, prevent further distribution of the letter, and prevent recurrence of this type of action."
Whew. Most everyone knows that if I write you a letter on my University stationery, it simply means that I'm identifying myself so that you know where I work and what I do. (Also that I'm too cheap to buy my own stationery if the University will supply it to me.) So there's no suggestion, to anyone vaguely familiar with academic practices, that the University of Minnesota officially endorsed Turner's letter. The attorneys' demands would seem to suggest two things--first of all, that as a U.S. citizen Turner has no right to ask a U.S. government agency to investigate a matter where there have been public suggestions of problems; and second, that the U. is entitled to take a number of steps that would severely infringe on Prof. Turner's academic freedom, a very basic principle that universities are sworn to respect (to say nothing of freedom of speech under the Constitution).
These demands are all predicated on the attorneys' claim that "Turner's letter contains numerous material false and defamatory allegations." I invite you to explore the language of the Turner letter to the FDA and decide whether the letter makes any defamatory allegations or simply raises significant questions for possible investigation.
I have posted previously (and wrote in HOOKED) about the type of lawsuit termed SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation), for example:
The letter from the Celltex attorneys is of course not a lawsuit but could be a precursor to one, and seems clearly to fall into the SLAPP category. Legally they probably have no leg to stand on, would be my nonlawyerly guess. The purpose of the letter is first, apparently, to scare Turner and any like-minded academics away from messing with their business; and second, to scare the University of Minnesota into isolating Turner and denying him any legal protection under the institution and its legal counsel. All of which, as various commentators have since noted--
is perhaps an indication as to what Celltex thinks the FDA would find if it actually checked things out.
If I get a similar letter after this post I'll be sure to let you know.