Tuesday, May 10, 2011

American Society for Bioethics and Humanities

Responds to Faculty Senate of the University of Minnesota

6 May 2011

Response to the Faculty Senate of the University of Minnesota

In the September/October 2010 issue of Mother Jones, Carl Elliott, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, published an essay titled “The Deadly Corruption of Clinical Trials.” In it, he criticized university policies surrounding drug trials, focusing specifically on the case of Don Markingson, who committed suicide seven years ago while participating in an industry-funded study of antipsychotic drugs conducted under the auspices of the University of Minnesota.

We understand that the University convened a subcommittee of the University Senate to address the question of how faculty should collectively respond to “factually incorrect” attacks on faculty research, focusing in particular on Elliott’s investigation of the Markingson case. This has given rise to the public perception that the University has attempted to squelch inquiry.

The American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) is an educational organization whose purpose is to promote scholarship, research, teaching, policy development, and professional development among people engaged in clinical and academic bioethics and the health-related humanities. The ASBH Board of Directors writes to emphasize that free and open inquiry is essential to fulfill bioethics’ mission. Bioethicists serve a valuable role, not just within the academy but within society as a whole, examining ethical issues that surround the contemporary practice of medicine and the conduct of human subjects research. This means they must sometimes ask awkward questions, criticize institutions and ways of doing things, bring troubling issues to public attention, and speak the truth as they find it. And of course, they must offer good reasons for their views.

For these reasons, those involved in ethics, including academic bioethicists, IRB members, and others, must be able to speak their minds freely. We recognize that these conversations can be difficult, but we hope that the University of Minnesota will uphold the ideals of academic freedom, continue to engage in open debate about these important issues, and protect the integrity of human subjects research.


Mark Kuczewski, President
American Society for Bioethics and Humanities

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