An Honor Code for Medical Trials is a Fragile Thing


In the New York Times, University of Minnesota bioethicist and MIA Blogger Carl Elliott reflects on the ongoing psychiatric research scandals at UMinn, and explains why he worries that research at other universities and institutions may secretly be just as unethical.

“I hope that the situation at the University of Minnesota is exceptional,” writes Elliott. “But I know that at least one underlying cause of our problems is not limited to us: namely, the antiquated bureaucratic apparatus of institutional review boards, or I.R.B.s, which are supposed to protect subjects of medical experimentation. Indeed, whether other institutions have seen the kinds of abuses that have emerged at the University of Minnesota is difficult to know, precisely because the current research oversight system is inadequate to detect them.”

Elliott explains that I.R.B.s essentially rely on researchers telling the truth and ultimately doing exactly what they say. “In what other potentially dangerous industry do we rely on an honor code to keep people safe? Imagine if inspectors never actually set foot in meatpacking plants or coal mines, but gave approvals based entirely on paperwork filled out by the owners.”

The University of Minnesota’s Medical Research Mess (New York Times, May 26, 2015)