October 20, 2006

The Tuskegee University Bioethics Center Opens ... with Lilly Money

Tuskegee University formally opened its bioethics center, led by Vanessa Gamble and established in 1999:
The Bioethics Center, formerly known as the John Andrews Building, underwent a $24-million renovation and reconstruction. With contributions from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Ford Foundation and the Eli Lilly Endowment, the facility, first erected in 1913, stands as a jewel on the campus of Tuskegee University.

"This occasion is excellent in bringing people together to recognize this travesty that occurred within U.S. health care, and it reminds us of what the study meant so many people across the world," says Dr. Leila Willis Frank.

Dr. Frank's father Wilbur Willis, Sr., was among the 400 or so men who went untreated as a result of the government study. He died in July 11, 1970. "I'm happy to be here today to see the rededication to the lives of so many that have come behind those that have participated in the study to better our lives and to understand what health care is and what studies mean," she says.

So here is a truly difficult moment for those who object to any involvement of pharma money in bioethics. In "Pharma Buys a Conscience," one of Carl Elliot's bakers dozen of numbingly parallel articles about the evils of pharma money in bioethics, he argues that Lilly is, um, the root of all evil.

His argument, smashed to tiny bits by James Coyne in a debate and in what might well be the clearest repudiation ever of Elliot's endless arguments that Lilly went after the Hastings Center in illicit revenge against Elliot and David Healy, is still oft cited by those who just don't care that he had all the facts wrong.

So what now will those who oppose Lilly's funding of anything related to ethics say of Lilly's support of the Clinton-initiated program, an amazing program, at Tuskegee? I can easily see the criticisms, for Lilly has indeed taken hits for its 'difficulties' in developing a research ethics program, difficulties that resulted in maybe the most inhumane clinical research facility since Tuskegee (noted in The Wall Street Journal in 1996 in a landmark article I forever find myself citing, when I am ranting that new clinical trials are at least as bad as Tuskegee, i.e., that we seem to have learned nothing about the danger of ignoring bad human subjects research practices).

But Lilly's not holding trials at TU, nor in Macon County, and indeed there is every evidence that the Center is very careful in how it allocates and procures funding. So: calling acolytes of the "pharma money is killing bioethics" crowd: what say you of the creation of an outstanding new bioethics program with the aid of money from a foundation paid for in part by pharma. Lean back in the chair in your medical center office (in the building paid for by drug trials) and ruminate on that.

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