Thursday, December 22, 2005

Conflicted Bioethicists

Carl Elliott also recently wrote an article in Dissent on bioethicists with conflicts of interest.

His main points were:
  • Contemporary bioethicists often get funding from commercial sources, particularly pharmaceutical companies.
  • Bioethicists have discounted the effects of commercial support on their own writing and behavior. For example, two American bioethics societies commissioned a task force to examine for-profit bioethics consultation. The task force did not find such consultation problematic, but eight of its ten members had previously performed such for-profit consultations themselves.
  • Bioeticists own conflicts of interest may explain why "at a time when the pharmaceutical industry is coming under heavy public criticism for unethical practices - illegal marketing, Medicare fraud, research abuse, ghostwritten journal articles, unexplained deaths in research studies - it is striking how little of the criticism has come from bioethicists."
He concluded:
Bioethicists who accept money from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry are not impartial arbiters on the question of whether industry funding constitutes a conflict of interest for academic researchers.
At a bare minimum, bioethicists writing on conflicts of interest need to disclose their industry ties in their scholarly publications on the topic
More important, however, industry-funded bioethicists should not be writing the guidelines under which their own financial activities will be regulated, or serving on the conflict of interest committees that enforce these guidelines.
Again, read the whole thing. I have wondered for a while why professional bioethicists seem so uninterested in the unethical practices that now afflict many parts of health care, beyond even the list of practices Elliott attributed to the pharmaceutical industry above. Bioethicists' own conflicts of interest may be one explanation. Thus, yet another defensive line against unethical and corrupt health care leadership has been breached.

2 comments:

Gary Freedman said...

Bioethics. Cool! Rock on!!

Stephen Hicks said...

I wonder if the relative lack of attention to conflicts of interest in the bioethics literature is because such conflicts are not especially a bioethics issue but a business ethics or management ethics issue. There is a substantial literature on conflicts of interest in the business ethics journals, where you might expect more attention to management, incentives, money, and such issues. Meanwhile, those attracted to bioethics are more interested in and focused on core medical issues such as stem cells, informed consent, euthanasia, and so on, and see management and money issues as more peripheral.