Time Capsule Tuesday: “Local IRBs are simply out of their league.”

In October 1989, PRIM&R hosted a conference titled Whither IRBs in the 1990s? New Directions and New Decisions. During the conference, Professor George Annas, JD, MPH, reflected on the limits of institutional review boards (IRBs) when speaking on a panel about uses of fetal tissue and genetic research. He observed:

I think that IRBs have to recognize their institutional limits. In dealing with artificial hearts, xerographs, genetic engineering research, embryo research, multiple organ transplants, first-of-their-kind transplants, and fetal tissue transplants, local IRBs are simply out of their league. In dealing with such issues, they have reached the limits of their institutional competence. They should understand that they may be able to play basketball, as I can, with my son, but they certainly cannot play in the same league as Larry Bird; to pretend that they can is simply something that is going to lead not only to disillusionment, but to conclusions that simply will not hold. As an IRB member, you may think of yourself as Daniel in the lion’s den; you may think that, no matter what you do, people are not going to like you. It seems to me that the challenge for the nineties is to try to determine what to do when you reach your institutional limits. 

Do you agree with the assessment made by Annas? Has the charge he set forth been met? How do we define institutional limits in human subjects protections, and where do we go when those limits are met?