An Unscientific Method?

Activists and Legislators Urge Safeguards for Human Subjects in Experiments

In response to legislators' and activists' concerns, Surgeon General David Satcher announced in March the formation of a National Advisory Council on Human Research Protections to "assist in setting standards and address human subjects' protection." Satcher claims the council will be composed of independent experts who were not involved in the OPRR investigations of fenfluramine experiments.

Activists like Zucker are cautiously optimistic about the federal government's latest action. "We don't know who is going to be appointed as a member of the advisory council, but we certainly feel very encouraged by the surgeon general's response," Zucker says. He adds, however, that "the whole system will prove to be an illusion if there are people on the council who serve the interests of drug companies."

Meanwhile, it is still too early to tell if Vann's bill has enough support to pass in the Republican-dominated state senate. "Last year, we tried to negotiate with the Republicans, and I'm hoping this time they will support us," Vann says, but adds that "it also depends on the medical community, which opposes our move." Sources monitoring the legislative process in Albany say that one Republican senator, Nancy Hoffman, is expected to support the legislation.

illustration by Jordin Isip

At this critical juncture, health advocates are not letting up pressure. "It is a disaster that the OPRR exonerated the Psychiatric Institute," says Breggin. "It's a blank check to do experiments on any inner city child; if you are poor and black, you are at risk," he says. "Experiments like those should never be carried out again."

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