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TDG has reported previously about controversies surrounding the ‘afterlife research’ conducted by Dr Gary Schwartz at the University of Arizona. Late last year, Dr Schwartz was at the centre of some bizarre accusations – including ‘preying’ (financially) on a man whose son had recently died – in a segment aired on Fox, hosted by Geraldo (Dr Schwartz responded here).

This debacle had followed a split between Dr Schwartz and some of his most high-profile research subjects: Allison Dubois (of Medium fame) and Laurie Campbell (who also appeared on the Geraldo segment). Both mediums suggested that Dr Schwartz had improperly disclosed their names and names of close family, without their permission, and Dubois claimed that Dr Schwartz was riding on the coat-tails of her success. Talking to Geraldo, Laurie Campbell said “I think with my resignation it kind of shows in 2005 that I felt he was highly unethical and I can no longer be connected to his program or the university.”

These alleged ethical breaches were investigated by the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The investigation is mapped out in the following three ‘Determination Letters’: June 2007, December 2007, and May 2008 (PDF files) – the final letter being the most informative, as the others were part of the continuing investigation. The main findings are set out below.

Firstly, the OHRP found that Dr Schwartz had failed to protect the privacy of his research subjects, though they considered the matter resolved by an internal reprimand by the University of Arizona:

We determined that the principal investigator for the above-referenced research initiated changes to the research without institutional review board (IRB) review and approval, and as a result, failed to protect the privacy of subjects and to maintain the confidentiality of data…

…We acknowledge your statement that the Vice President for Research, Graduate Studies, and Economic Development at the University of Arizona (UA) will issue a letter of reprimand to the principal investigator… This corrective action adequately addresses our determination.

Though the wording is obscure, the following passage seems to address the Geraldo segment’s claims (or at least, a similar situation) of Dr Schwartz seeking funding from vulnerable ‘research subjects’. In this case the OHRP considered the allegation ‘unproven’:

One complainant alleged that one of the purposes of the research was fund-raising for Dr. Schwartz but that this was not disclosed to subjects, in contravention of HHS regulations at 45 CFR 46.116(a)(1). You stated that the UA investigative panel found no evidence of funding irregularities or of Dr. Schwartz’s solicitation of funds from research subjects. We therefore determine that the allegation is unproven.

There are additional findings which I won’t quote here at length, but which may be of interest to readers, so I suggest that you read through the PDFs for a complete picture. These include concerns about a ‘cooling off’ period after the death of a loved one, before engaging a ‘sitter’, and a complaint about personal information being lost in the post (finding: “not a violation of HHS regulations”).

In light of these findings, I contacted Gary Schwartz for his take on the investigation. Dr Schwartz was kind enough to give a detailed reply – I quote it in full below, as it offers some clarification of the events in question (admittedly, from Dr Schwartz’s personal perspective), which tended to get lost in the ‘sterile’ HHS letters:

The purpose and spirit of federal rules concerning the use of human subjects is for subject protection (e.g. protecting their anonymity) and safety. Our laboratory closely follows these rules. Much of our research – for example, the studies reported in my latest book THE ENERGY HEALING EXPERIMENTS (which recently won a Nautilus Gold Book Award) – is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH funded research strictly follows the University implementation of the federal rules. However, none of our afterlife research has ever been funded by federal sources.

Moreover, our very early research – the targeted experiments of concern in the HHS investigation – were primarily supported by the media. The 1999 HBO special LIFE AFTERLIFE is a case in point (discussed in detail in my book THE AFTERLIFE EXPERIMENTS). This was a public demonstration experiment – meaning, the subjects (mediums and sitters) choose not to be anonymous – and the experiment was designed for complete public awareness. The subjects (as well as the experimenters) signed legally binding consent forms provided by the media, indicating their agreement to use their names publicly. Since the research was explicitly designed for public education, and signed consents were used, we did not submit this research to the University (i.e. subjects were volunteering and choosing to have their participation in this demonstration research be public). As the Veritas.arizona.edu web site explains in detail, save for this early public research, the majority of our afterlife research went through the formal University human subjects approval process.

The HHS investigation was initiated by a few disgruntled subjects (sitters and mediums) who sought any means possible to denigrate the laboratory. Most of their complaints were found to be invalid. HHS was correct that the early research did not use federally sanctioned human consent forms (though they did use legally binding media human consent forms). Moreover, although I received various written and aural requests by various mediums to use their names in subsequent media presentations and publications, the laboratory initiated formal legally binding written documents (approved by the University) a few years ago to insure that potential future disgruntled individuals could not find legal loop holes to denigrate the laboratory.

I applaud the HHS and University in fulfilling their important responsibility to investigate potential human subject violations, whether the complaints are valid or not, and regardless of the motives of the complainants. HHS and the University recognize that I and my laboratory are committed to following both the procedures and spirit of subject (both human and animal) protection and safety.

My thanks to Dr Schwartz for responding to my request for comment – I am open to posting the opinions of others involved, if they wish to contact me. However, I’m hopeful that the completed HHS investigation draws the curtain on this controversy, so that we can return to answering the important question – is there evidence for afterlife survival? There is no place for ego and personal squabbles in such a vital investigation, and I don’t think the topic has been served well at all by this particular controversy.