[Update: The petition mentioned in this post has now been signed by more than 1,000 people including three former editors of the New England Journal of Medicine. An article has also appeared in the Star-Tribune that gives the University of Minnesota's response to the most recent developments. Please see comments on the article.]
From my friend Mike Howard:
"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."
As of this writing nearly six hundred people have signed a petition to Governor Dayton, including 70 scholars in bioethics/health law/medical humanities. The group includes a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The petition calls for an outside investigation without involvement of the University of Minnesota, especially its General Counsel who suffers from a severe conflict of interest.
As former Health Ombudsman in New Zealand (Health and Disability Commissioner, 2000-10) I am deeply disturbed to read of unethical behaviour by researchers and psychiatrists who enrolled Dan Markinson in a trial of antipsychotic drugs, when he was not competent to consent. It appears that evidence about potential harmful side effects of the prescribed drugs was suppressed. Dan's suicide may well be linked to the effect of the drugs he was prescribed, yet no one listened to his mother's cries for help to prevent the harm that ultimately ensued. It is now too late for Dan, but the University of Minnesota owes it to him and his mother to investigate what happened and put safeguards in places to prevent a similar tragedy happening again.
As a Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at a Big Ten medical school and a practicing physician, I think medical researchers and their sponsoring institutions should be held to a high standard of ethical behavior and transparency.
As the leading institution for higher learning in the state, the University of Minnesota can, and should, do better.
The coverage of this case in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and elsewhere generates reason to be deeply worried about possible research misconduct at the University of Minnesota. The potential misconduct appears to be serious enough that an independent investigation, located outside the university, is necessary.
Because I have worked in Psychiatric Research for close to 30 years and I find the response from UM and the sponsor to be unacceptable.
I have followed this particular case since it piqued my interested back a few years ago with an article in the Pioneer Press from St Paul. I have tried to keep an open mind and understand the University's denials of any wrongdoing. From everything I have been able to gather researching this I've come to the same conclusion over and over again. The UMN is wrong and they know it. Their repeated steps to block any type of independent investigation is disgusting. The University is acting exactly like the pharmaceutical company, if we can control the data then we can control the outcome. As I see it, Governor Dayton has no option but to order an investigation.
I teach biomedical ethics, and every student ever to take my class could tell you why this study design was profoundly immoral.