Dear Board of Regents Members:
We write in support of the call made by faculty members affiliated with the university’s Center for Bioethics for the Board of Regents to establish an independent panel of experts to investigate the suicide of Dan Markingson. We are particularly concerned that possible ethical violations at the University of Minnesota may have contributed to his death.
Dan Markingson committed suicide on May 8, 2004, while in a psychiatric study at the University of Minnesota, sponsored by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Articles in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Mother Jones suggest that ethical violations contributed to Mr. Markingson’s death. These violations may have included the following:
1. The recruitment of a mentally ill subject into a research study while he was under an involuntary commitment order
2. Financial conflicts of interest on the part of the university researchers conducting the study
3. A payment structure which included financial incentives to recruit and retain subjects rather than provide them with standard therapy
4. A study design aimed at generating positive results for AstraZeneca rather than investigating a genuine scientific question
5. The failure of university researchers to address concerns of Mr. Markingson’s mother, who warned that Mr. Markingson was suicidal and who attempted for months to have him removed from the study
6. The development of a specialized unit in Fairview Hospital designed to identify severely mentally ill subjects for recruitment into research studies
7. A failure of the institutional oversight system for protecting human subjects of research.
These are all serious charges. If true, they suggest systemic problems in the way that clinical research is conducted and overseen at the university. Moreover, they erode confidence in research at the University of Minnesota, both within and beyond its medical school. It is essential that patients participating in research studies at the University of Minnesota, the university community at large, and the wider public, be confident that the university is doing everything it can to protect research subjects from harm.
We believe that an inquiry by an independent panel of experts in research ethics and the conduct of medical research is both warranted and necessary in order for the university to respond adequately to Dan Markingson’s death and take measures to ensure that research conducted here does not again result in a like tragedy. Transparency and accountability in conduct should be the touchstones of a public university.
Bruce Braun, Department of Geography
Gil Rodman, Department of Communication Studies
Karen-Sue Taussig, Department of Anthropology
Antonio Vazquez-Arroyo, Department of Political Science
for Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education (FRPE).