Guinea-Pigging%28Reading%29 - Dept. of Medical Ethics...

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Dept. of Medical Ethics Guinea-pigging Healthy human subjects for drug-safety trials are in demand. But is it a living? by Carl Elliott January 7, 2008 Volunteers are paid not to do things but to let things be done to them. On September 11, 2001, James Rockwell was camped out in a clinical-research unit on the eleventh floor of a Philadelphia hospital, where he had enrolled as a subject in a high-paying drug study. As a rule, studies that involve invasive medical procedures are more lucrative—the more uncomfortable, the better the pay—and in this study subjects had a fibre-optic tube inserted in their mouths and down their esophaguses so that researchers could examine their gastrointestinal tracts. Rockwell had enrolled in many previous studies at corporate sites at places like Wyeth and GlaxoSmithKline. But the atmosphere there felt professional, bureaucratic, and cold. This unit was in a university hospital, not a corporate lab, and the staff had a casual attitude toward regulations and procedures. “The Animal House of research units” is what Rockwell calls it. “I’m standing in the hallway juggling,” he says. “I’m up at five in the morning watching movies.” Although study guidelines called for stringent dietary restrictions, the subjects got so hungry that one of them picked the lock on the food closet. “We got giant boxes of cookies and ran into the lounge and put them in the couch,” Rockwell says. “This one guy was putting them in the ceiling tiles.” Rockwell has little confidence in the data that the study produced. “The most integral part of the study was the diet restriction,” he says, “and we were just gorging ourselves at 2 A.M. on Cheez Doodles.” On the morning of September 11th, nearly a month into the five-week study, the subjects gathered around a television and watched the news of the terrorist attacks through a drug-induced haze. “We were all high on Versed after getting endoscopies,” Rockwell says. He and the other subjects began to wonder if they should go home. But a mass departure would have ruined the study. “The doctors were, like, ‘No, no!’ ” Rockwell recalls. “ ‘No one’s going home, everything’s fine!’ ” Rockwell stayed until the end of the study and was paid seventy- five hundred dollars. He used the money to make a down payment on a house.
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Rockwell is a wiry thirty-year-old massage-therapy student with a pierced nose; he seems to bounce in his seat as he speaks, radiating enthusiasm. Over the years, he estimates, he has enrolled in more than twenty studies for money. The Philadelphia area offers plenty of opportunities for aspiring human subjects. It is home to four medical schools and is part of a drug-industry corridor that stretches into New Jersey. Bristol-Myers Squibb regularly sends a van to pick up volunteers at the Trenton train station. Today, fees as high as the one that Rockwell received aren’t unusual. The best-paying studies are longer, in-
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This note was uploaded on 08/08/2009 for the course BIOL 202 taught by Professor Y during the Spring '09 term at McGill.

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Guinea-Pigging%28Reading%29 - Dept. of Medical Ethics...

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