Reflections from the Front: We All Answer to Someone
“Surgeons routinely fail to disclose financial ties” is the title of a Journal Sentinel article by John Fauber, http://www.jsonline.com/features/health/102811174.html. Fauber outlines how over the last several years a number of leading orthopedic surgeons received millions of dollars in “consultation fees”, to use and promote products from specific manufacturers. Hospitals and patients were unaware of the conflicts of interest. These types of violations are illegal under current anti-kickback laws, but nonetheless in 2007, “41 surgeons and researchers got $114 million from the five firms (limited study), an average of $2.8 million each.”
In www.neurotodayonline.com August 4, 2011, Volume 11, Issue 15, Kurt Samson details an unethical practice referred to as “seeding”. In seeding, the drug company secures high profile researchers to participate in studies which they believe legitimate. With the new drug on the guru’s front burner, the hope is that in the course of their professional presentations they mention their new trials. The aura of “They’re using it in trials at the Cleveland Clinic” provides legitimacy by association. It works for high prescribers as well. If busy clinicians become involved in the trial, they may also begin prescribing the medication for their other patients as well. The fulcrum of the duplicity as discovered in a recent court case against Parke-Davis, was to pretend the results of the trial were important for proof of safety or efficacy, when these facts had already been proven. This was purely a marketing ploy.
During the early days of the stem cell controversy in America, in discussing embryonic versus adult stem cell research funding, outspoken scientists claimed that the science of the research was so complex that no non-scientist’s opinion was worth hearing on the ethical aspects of the question. The obvious conflicts of interest, who is receiving funding from whom, to what ends, were ignored. Over time the overblown claims of the embryonic researchers have been proven to be just that. I witnessed a researcher claim in a symposium in our medical school that the future of stem cell research depended primarily on embryonic experiments. Later, in private, when I questioned him, his response was, “Anyone knows that thus far the adult stem cell research has been far more productive, but I don’t want anyone telling me what I can do my research on.”
My points? 1) Follow the money, 2) Accountability, with checks and balances is important in research and education (government, religion, etc.), and 3) We are all fallen human beings. Contrary to what President Clinton said while in the White House, as humans we are not all “basically good people.” Made in the image of God, we are nonetheless fallen; power corrupts, and researchers need to be answerable not only to academia, but to society at large. These issues are too important to leave to scientists, and the church is far too important a voice to abstain from accountability discussions. We must remain attentive and involved in the forum.
TIU Blog 2011 Number 3