Newark, N.J., Forum Focuses on Medical, Pharmaceutical Ethics

Source: Knight Ridder Tribune Business News

Asbury Park Press via NewsEdge Corporation : Apr. 22-- Dr. Delon Human shared the tale of a 30-year-old woman who once visited him, complaining of abdominal pain. As Human, Secretary General of the World Medical Association, examined the patient, he found a remnant of her medical history: 28 scars from surgeries on her abdomen.

Human later learned that of nearly 30 doctors the woman had visited, only he and another had opted not to operate on her. It appeared the pain she suffered was caused by anxiety, which no amount of surgery could relieve, he said. "No one (doctors) had the guts to say no," to her cries for surgery, said Human, the keynote speaker at "The Grand Bargain: The Pharmaceutical Industry and Society in the 21st Century," a two-day conference held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The Prudential Business Ethics Center at Rutgers University's Newark campus organized the event.

New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson, the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, and the Prudential Foundation co-sponsored the conference, which began yesterday and ends today, and is meant to provide a forum for public debate about ethical issues in the pharmaceutical industry and society.
The event drew a mixed crowd of pharmaceutical insiders, physicians, consumer advocates, professors and Rutgers graduate students working toward their Master of Business Administration degrees with a concentration in the pharmaceutical industry.
"The conference is entitled the 'Grand Bargain' to reflect the special relationship that the pharmaceutical industry has with society," said Michael A. Santoro, a Rutgers professor and conference organizer who named the event. "In recent years, politicians, social critics, and the media have devoted significant attention to the social responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies. We hope that this conference will provide an opportunity to assess the strengths and weaknesses of this special relationship," said Santoro, adding that expensive drugs for AIDS that were manufactured by pharmaceutical companies and inaccessible in poor nations was one of the social responsibilities society is probing.

With regard to ethics in the pharmaceutical industry, panelists said there's a fine line that stretches into relationships between physician, pharmacist and patient. Pointing to the death of 17-year-old Jesica Santillian this past February, Eve E. Slater, former assistant for health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said there needs to be a checks-and-balances system to prevent future tragedies. Santillian, whose case received national attention, had received organs with the wrong blood type during a heart and lung transplant at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina.

International documents, including the Nuremberg Code of 1947 and the Declaration of Helsinki, which was formed in 1964 and revised in 1989 and 2002, were set in place to protect the rights of humans participating in clinical trial studies, said Elora J. Weringer, a Pfizer bioethics advisor in the division of U.S. science policy and public affairs. "Clinical trials are global. These protections are global," said Weringer, adding that U.S. legislatures are revamping human subject protection laws.
In times of budget cuts, it is understood that health care facilities are cutting back, but costs should still be controlled and equal treatment should be provided to everyone, said Dr. Valentine J. Burroughs, associate medical director and chairman of medicine at North General Hospital in New York City.
Clinical trials should be inclusive to avoid adverse reactions in people of certain ethnicities, Burroughs said. "You have to test these drugs in all populations before you market it," he said. There was no one answer to the many questions and issues raised about ethics at yesterday's event.
However, Human said, one fundamental question asked by those in the heath-care industry during clinical studies is, "Do you do what is right for the individual or do you do what is right for society?" According to the Declaration of Helenski, what's good for the individual should take precedence over science, he said.