Addressing Fishman’s Worries: Theorizing Ways to make Medical Research more Ethical

Like other course readings, Fishman’s article notes numerous conflicts of interest between pharmaceutical companies and the supposedly “objective” and unbiased research community that legitimizes diseases and their treatments. Worrying about these conflicts is important, but we should also theorize new ways of doing research that better conform to our “idealized ethical norms” for medical study (191). I.e., we can agree that there are problems with how medical research is done currently, so let’s talk solutions.

First, many medical journals do not require authors to “disclose financial arrangements with any pharmaceutical companies” (193). This is problematic, and points to a need to regulate (via self-regulatory or government means) not just which drugs make it to a market, but also to regulate the academic journals which publish findings on these very drugs. In particular, medical journals are often seen as the “gold standard” for information by medical practitioners and the media alike, and requiring journal authors to be explicit about their research funds is both reasonable and necessary.

Second, Fishman notes CME conferences are almost “completely dependent upon pharmaceutical companies for support,” resulting in many conference attendees being biased in support of a pharmaceutical sponsor (195). To deal with this issue, imagine if a third party organization was created through which funds for medical conferences were given. Now, instead of Pfizer sponsoring a conference on FSD, Pfizer can give its funds to the third party, and the third party can then provide funds for the conference, while keeping anonymous where the funds came from.

Such proposals would help us get to the ideals of academic integrity, honesty and impartiality that we expect to find in medical research. While these solutions  will not solve the problem entirely, they can help deal with some conflicts of interest that arise from the medical researcher-pharmaceutical company relationship.

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