$2000 or Bust

In case you missed it, a recent pharmaceutical trial in France tested an experimental drug in 90 healthy people. The result left one man dead, while four others were hospitalized with likely permanent brain damage.

After weeks of investigation, the Paris-based newspaper Le Figaro revealed information that animal testing of the drug had left “a number” of tested canines dead and others with severe neurological damage, yet this did not stop testing of the drug in healthy human volunteers. Each volunteer participant, by the way, was paid 1900 Euros (around $2000) for the privilege.

That’s a tough way to earn $2000 –  $2000 in exchange for a 5% risk of ruining your entire life.

The companies responsible for the testing have stonewalled, refusing to reveal details of their safety data in the face of an international outcry for more information. Drug owner, Portuguese company Bial, and its contracted partner responsible for testing, London’s Biotrial, claim privilege behind laws protecting “industrial secrets.”  

The scandal has engendered several investigative reports from major news outlets around the world. But even the academic press are digging in. We await a full scale analysis soon to be published in the prestigious British Journal of Pharmacology. More to come, folks.

So, why am I highlighting this tragedy?

Well, this is exactly what my novel The First Days of August is all about. Here we have a private pharma company pushing a drug into human testing, obscuring information about animal testing that showed the drug to be dangerous.

How could this happen? Did a corporation do something bad here? Did a scientist or executive or two or three or more ignore or, even worse, obscure or hide data that showed the drug to be dangerous and deadly? And if so, then why would they do this?  

If you can push the drug through Phase I trials, you have a great chance of getting it to market. Millions, ladies and gentlemen, millions – that’s one answer.

An even deeper answer is Hannah Arendt’s brilliant book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: the Banality of Evil. Some of the worst tragedies of human history are the result of unthinking, ordinary people following orders of evil masterminds. Here is the reality of my book’s fantasy of the “SS” – the Science Service.

So, what’s the defense?  

Read my book. NSA agent Winston Schmidt said it best, “True values value truth above values.”

It’s the same as the defenses against bad behavior in all the professions – whether doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, architects, or even clergy. You want these professionals to tell you the truth, to use their best judgment in their efforts on your behalf? Well, guess what. Ain’t no regulator, supervisor, or cop who can make this happen in all circumstances. We all rely on the defense of professional ethics: true and good values value the true and the good, without supervision.

“Professional ethics?” you cry out. “Come on, Alan, that’s just quaint.  We need these people to be supervised, managed, and controlled. We can’t rely on something as unreliable as ‘values.’”

But here, dear Reader, I must insist. Indeed, professional values are the exact solution – because no supervision can ever be sufficient.

Of course, yes, all values can be broken, given that we are all human, and even an honest man without options will steal a chicken for his starving children.

But if we keep our scientists fed and clothed, and their kids in college, then only the truly bad ones will be corrupted by fame and fortune – as long as they’ve been inculcated with professional values.

On the other hand, if scientists have no sense of professional ethics, then “truth” becomes less important, more a matter of admitting to your grandmother that you didn’t like her pot roast.   And then smudging the data in exchange for a million or two in the bank doesn’t seem too unreasonable.

Let us train our professionals to be professionals.  Ethics count.

Keep the faith. 


Read 1028 times Last modified on Wednesday, 23 March 2016 14:25
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