Have some American homeless become lab rats?

The web magazine Medium features a searing examination of the US clinical trials industry. The headline of the first part, written by bioethicist Carl Elliott, says it all: “The Best-Selling, Billion-Dollar Pills Tested on Homeless People: How the destitute and the mentally ill are being used as human lab rats”.

Elliott begins his investigation in Philadelphia, which has a large homeless population and a number of medical schools and pharmaceutical companies. He says that companies run clinical trials for drugs, even dangerous drugs, cheaper and faster than universities. This leads to questionable ethical practices. 

“Pharmaceutical companies now typically outsource clinical studies to contract research organizations like South Coast, which run trials faster and at lower cost than universities do. Their job is simply to follow the instructions of their sponsors. This formula is working: The contract research industry has grown steadily since the early 1990s and may now generate over $100 billion in annual income, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. At the top of the heap are corporations like Quintiles, which has 28,000 employees and operates in about 100 countries. At the other end are private physicians and small companies like South Coast, which are often based in strip malls or suburban office parks.”

These companies pay participants. for the destitute and mentally ill, it is money for jam. “The main ethical issues here, of course, are the competence and judgment of the prospective subjects,” writes Elliott. While compensation is not coercive, the poor can barely resist the temptation.

Elliott has been a harsh critic of fellow bioethicists for years, regarding many of them as shills for Big Pharma. He writes:

“None of the bioethicists or review board managers I spoke to were willing to publicly defend paying mentally ill homeless subjects to take part in clinical trials, although most did not seem especially surprised to hear that the practice was occurring. But some prominent bioethicists do not see homelessness as a barrier to research.”

The article is confronting and provocative. It’s well worth reading. 

This article is published by and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

comments powered by Disqus

 Search BioEdge

 Subscribe to BioEdge newsletter
rss Subscribe to BioEdge RSS feed

 Recent Posts
Does the world need another international treaty to deal with future pandemics?
2 May 2021
3 polyamorous parents listed on child’s birth certificate in British Columbia 
2 May 2021
Activist calls for moratorium on publication of Chinese transplant research   
2 May 2021
‘Public involvement’ needed to pave way for controversial science, say researchers
2 May 2021
At long last, the first issue of the ‘Journal of Controversial Ideas’!  
2 May 2021

Home | About Us | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | rss RSS | Archive | Bookmark and Share |

BioEdge - New Media Foundation Ltd © 2004 - 2019