Unethical medical teaching at Harvard?

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Omai
Omai's picture
Unethical medical teaching at Harvard?

A group of Harvard medical school students and faculty are protesting against the influence of big pharma on medical classes and doctor training. It seems that Harvard received a failing grade from the American Medical Student Association on how well it monitors and controls drug industry money.
Ethically, this is a tough problem. The money Harvard takes in from drug companies is helping support the school during hard economic times. But that doesn't give a teacher the right to push a certain drug company's agenda because said teacher may receive funds from that company. This is especially troublesome if it bleeds over into biomedical research.
Here is a link to the article:
www.nytimes.com/2009/03/03/business/03medschool.html
Comments are welcome.

Ivan Delgado
Ivan Delgado's picture
I see no problem with

I see no problem with industry providing funds to academia to stimulate research and discovery, wether it's done during good or bad economic times. I think that the industry-academic relationship can have a lot of power and generate synergisms that are very hard to duplicate. But I definitely draw the line when a professor belittles a student for bringing up a completely relevant point like side effects. There is absolutely no reason for a professor to become a sales person, especially since he gets "remunerated" by the drug company just by supporting the drug. You could even argue that by simply stimulating discussion the professor is giving the drug company a lot of exposure. Anybody that knows the story of the tobacco industry knows that there is nothing better for a product than to expose young people to it early on (positives and negatives aside, it is great marketing).
Having said this, I would argue that if a professor is a paid consultant of a drug maker, it would be a conflict of interest for he or she to express an academic opinion in favor of said drug. When you get paid to provide a favorable opinion about something, your stance on the subject is questionable. Every time a scientist publishes a paper he is required to disclose any conflicting interests. The same should be true of a professor/physician teaching a given subject matter (it is amazing that only Harvard requires this).
Everyone needs to make money and I think that great teachers as a whole need to remunerated for staying in academia as many at the same level in industry make a lot more money. I do not think think the problem is the money per se, but how well people dance the fine line between providing their honest opinion on the subject matter and a biased view due to conflicts of interest. In other words, it is an issue of regulation and oversight (much like the missing regulations and oversight that lead to the financial breakdown). Ultimately to limit or curtail the academy-industry relationship would be a mistake. Today's medical research is an expensive enterprise and if money is not poured into it from both government and industrial sources the institution's competitiveness will be hurt.