In November 2003, psychiatrists at the University of Minnesota used the threat of involuntary commitment to force a mentally ill young man named Dan Markingson into a very profitable, industry-funded study of antipsychotic drugs. Dan was enrolled in the study over the objections of his mother, Mary Weiss. For months Mary tried desperately to get him out of the study, warning the psychiatrists that Dan’s condition was deteriorating and that he was in danger of killing himself. The psychiatrists refused to listen to her. On May 8, 2004, Dan committed suicide, and Mary lost her only child.
After nine years of unsuccessful attempts to get research oversight bodies to look into the circumstances surrounding Dan’s death, Mary and her friend Mike Howard have started a petition to the governor of Minnesota, asking for an external investigation. After only a few days, over seventy academic specialists in health law, bioethics and medical humanities have signed on, including a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, a co-founder of the Cochrane Collaboration, the former Health and Disability Commissioner of New Zealand, the historian who uncovered the US government-led Guatemala syphilis experiments, and the editors of two leading bioethics journals. Even more gratifying has been the overwhelming support of former psychiatric patients, research subjects, and mental health activists. Many Minnesotans are on the list, but signatures have also come from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and all over Europe. Many former patients have left powerful comments on the petition.
Regular readers of Mad in America will be very familiar with the case of Dan Markingson. But if you want to know more, I urge you to read my 2010 article in Mother Jones magazine, “Making a Killing.” For an update on recent developments and a biting criticism of the University of Minnesota’s General Counsel, have a look at this post by Stanford’s Matt Lamkin on the Stanford Law and Biosciences blog. And for a deep look, consider Dr. Judy Stone’s five-part series on the case for the Scientific American blog.
Most of all, though, sign the petition here or at the link below. Leave a comment on the petition, and pass it along to others. The movement is gathering momentum, and Mary could use your help.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.