JLME Issue on Institutional Corruption and the Pharmaceutical Industry

September 30, 2013

The systematic corruption of medical knowledge, ranging from clinical trials and new diagnostic categories through practice guidelines to physician prescribing practices, is highlighted in a special fall issue of the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics(JLME, 41:3). In the seventeen articles of this JLME symposium issue, Institutional Corruption and the Pharmaceutical Industry, Lab Fellows from the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University present findings from their in-depth, multi-disciplinary investigations of corruption in pharmaceutical policy, and propose methods to mitigate these critical problems. Their research shows that widespread practices in the medical and pharmaceutical industries can lead to doctors who are psychologically, financially, or intellectually dependent on drug companies, a phenomenon which has resulted in insufficiently tested drugs, many of which cause harmful side effects.

Their research also reveals how top medical researchers can be financially tied to drug firms. For example, researchers have been found to conduct clinical trials on medications while simultaneously calling for their consumption and guaranteeing that insurance companies will pay for them. Doctors who take such misleading information at face value prescribe drugs that are often unnecessary, harmful to patients, or more costly than equivalent medications. Fellows uncovered how pharmaceutical marketing also distorts medical practice, and how drug firms are even funding social network websites for doctors in order to quietly track their opinions on issues that affect their bottom lines.

Drawing on insights from law, medicine, behavioral psychology, economics and finance, business, sociology, political science, and philosophy, the Fellows’ research also shows how lawmakers and patient advocacy organizations can be dependent on money from drug companies, resulting in representation that serves the interests of big pharma rather than the public. The pharmaceutical industry’s own mission and purposes are often undermined, the investigation concluded.

In his introduction to this JLME issue, Lawrence Lessig, the Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, writes,

“Every author in this collection writes from the perspective of institutional corruption. Not every author accepts the definition that I have offered here, or at least, not completely. But a field does not begin with a definition. It begins with examples and with analysis of those examples. And the collection offered here is a rich and valuable intervention into a field that is increasingly the focus of regulators and the public. My hope is that this collection might inspire a similar examination elsewhere.”