Doctors Behaving Badly: The causes and consequences of medical research scandals

Doctors Behaving Badly: The causes & consequences of medical research scandals | HSem 3715H

Jan. 19-May 12

Spring 2021 Courses
3 Cr
| Tuesdays & Thursdays, 11:15 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
| Online

This course will take students on a tour of the deadliest and most controversial research scandals in recent medical history. Some of these episodes are well-known, such as the exploitation of poor African American men with syphilis in Tuskegee, Alabama, and the injection of the hepatitis A virus into mentally disabled children at the Willowbrook State School in New York. But such well-known cases represent only a small fraction of ethically contentious medical research. In the 1960s, for example, at the world-renowned Allen Memorial Institute at McGill University, the CIA paid psychiatric researchers to use mentally ill subjects in "mind control" experiments involving LSD, intensive electroconvulsive therapy, and drug-induced comas for up to three months at a time. In 1996, during a meningitis epidemic in Nigeria, researchers for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer conducted a study of an unapproved antibiotic on children without the informed consent of their parents, resulting in eleven deaths. In 2013, two neurosurgeons at the University of California–Davis were forced to resign after authorities discovered that they had intentionally implanted bacteria in the brains of cancer patients. Today, the University of Minnesota itself is under investigation after for the case of Dan Markingson, a mentally ill young man who nearly decapitated himself after allegedly being coerced into an AstraZeneca-funded psychiatric study. In this course, we will explore questions such as: What cultural and institutional forces allowed the scandals to occur? What were the best ethical arguments in favor of allowing the research to proceed? How were the scandals exposed? What was the role of investigative reporters, regulatory authorities, and whistleblowers? Should we have confidence that research abuse is not occurring today?

This is an Honors Seminar designed to be unique, discussion-based course proposed by faculty on a subject within an area of their academic interest and expertise. Learn more.