November 29, 2010: Faculty Members Ask the University of Minnesota Board of Regents to Appoint a Panel of Experts Responsible for Investigating the Markingson Case

On November 29, 2010, eight faculty members (of whom I was one) asked the University of Minnesota Board of Regents to

appoint an impartial panel of experts in research ethics and University governance of medical research to investigate the Markingson case, particularly any larger structural or financial conditions that might have played a role in his death and which may still be putting patients at risk.

Drawing upon articles in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Mother Jones, the letter noted possibility of serious problems in the conduct and oversight of human subjects research at the University. If allegations of misconduct were true, the letter noted,

Those ethical violations include: recruiting a mentally ill, possibly incompetent subject into a research study while he was under an involuntary commitment order; large financial conflicts of interest on the part of the University researchers conducting the study; a payment structure for the study which included financial incentives to recruit and retain subjects rather than provide them with standard therapy; an allegedly biased study design aimed at generating positive results for AstraZeneca rather than investigating a genuine scientific question; the failure of University researchers to address the legitimate concerns of Mr. Markingson’s mother, Mary Weiss, who warmed that her son was suicidal and who attempted for months to have him removed from the study as his mental condition deteriorated; the apparent development of a specialized unit in Fairview Hospital designed to identify severely mentally ill subjects for recruitment into research studies; and finally, a failure of the institutional oversight system for protecting human subjects of research.

Carl Elliott, Dianne Bartels, Joan Liaschenko, Mary Faith Marshall, John Song, Leigh Turner, Susan Craddock, Joan Tronto, Letter to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, November 29, 2010.

News Media Coverage of the Letter to the Board of Regents

Andy Mannix, “Dan Markingson’s 2004 suicide: U of M faculty seek investigation,” City Pages, December 6, 2010.

Susan Perry, “Bioethicists ask U of M Regents to appoint outside panel to review ethics of 2004 Dan Markingson case,” MinnPost, December 6, 2010.

Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, “Minnesota Bioethicists Critique Their University,” Science Insider, December 7, 2010.

Evelina Smirnitskaya, “Profs seek outside review of ’04 drug trial suicide,” Minnesota Daily, December 7, 2010.

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