Mary Weiss’ troubling loss

Her son committed suicide in a U clinical trial that deserves scrutiny.
By
  • The Editorial Board
September 14, 2010
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the author of the Mother Jones article. It was written by Carl Elliott.

Mary Weiss says she wasn’t surprised when her lawyer called notifying her that the University of Minnesota was seeking about $57,000 in legal fees. It had already put her through enough after her son, Dan Markingson, 26, stabbed himself to death while enrolled in a clinical trial for an anti-psychotic medication here in 2004, a trial she didn’t want him in.
In 2008, a Hennepin County Court dismissed the case she brought against the University and the University settled with her, agreeing to drop the legal fees so long as she doesn’t appeal. That’s exactly why the case deserves continued public scrutiny, not only about the actions of the researchers carrying out the University’s mission, but about whether the University’s research mission itself favors public good over profit.
A recent article in Mother Jones magazine by University bioethics professor Carl Elliott details possible oversights in this so-called 2003 Café study lead by Dr. Stephen Olson and sponsored by AstraZeneca. Throughout the six-month study, Weiss says she had warned researchers that she was concerned for Dan’s well-being. She got little response.
The University is quick to point out that a Food and Drug Administration investigation into the case found no wrongdoing on behalf of the researchers in the Café study and that the court established no causal link between Seroquel, AstraZeneca’s medication that Dan was taking, and his suicide. But how could it?
That’s no assurance for Weiss, who says she noticed troubling signs in Dan, like rage and withdrawal, while he was in the study. Nor should that be enough for researchers and their overseers, the University’s Institutional Review Board, to conduct trials on at-risk populations which shouldn’t have to worry that their doctors are also beholden to the profit motives of Big Pharma.

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