UC Davis Punishes Professors for Unethical Medical Experiments

by Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC

Good for UC Davis. It has punished two medical professors for conducting unethical medical experiments on brain cancer patients. From the Associated Press story:

Two University of California, Davis, neurosurgeons have been banned from performing medical research on humans after they were accused of experimenting on dying brain cancer patients without university permission, the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday. J. Paul Muizelaar and Rudolph Schrot were banned from any research on humans after the university told the federal government that both surgeons took part in what the school termed “serious and continuing noncompliance” with federal regulations, the newspaper said . . .

The documents show the two doctors received the consent of three terminally ill patients with malignant brain tumors to introduce bacteria into their open head wounds, under the theory that postoperative infections might prolong their lives. After an inquiry from The Bee last year, university officials launched an investigation and determined that two of the patients developed sepsis and died, according to newspaper.

There’s more to ethical human subject research than patient consent. Indeed, given the desperation some might be feeling, that can be the easiest part.

Proper ethics require proper independent oversight by those not directly involved. Usually, this is the Institutional Review Board, which is responsible for ensuring that the experiment is ethical generally, properly structured, and reviewed by independent eyeballs. IRBs are essential to subject protection. By apparently circumventing this crucial protection — which is how I interpret the reporting that the university had not given permission to conduct the experiments — the professors justly earned the penalty they received.

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