The Professional Guinea Pig: Big Pharma and the Risky World of Human Subjects

Duke University Press
2
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The Professional Guinea Pig documents the emergence of the professional research subject in Phase I clinical trials testing the safety of drugs in development. Until the mid-1970s Phase I trials were conducted on prisoners. After that practice was outlawed, the pharmaceutical industry needed a replacement population and began to aggressively recruit healthy, paid subjects, some of whom came to depend on the income, earning their living by continuously taking part in these trials. Drawing on ethnographic research among self-identified “professional guinea pigs” in Philadelphia, Roberto Abadie examines their experiences and views on the conduct of the trials and the risks they assume by participating. Some of the research subjects he met had taken part in more than eighty Phase I trials. While the professional guinea pigs tended to believe that most clinical trials pose only a moderate health risk, Abadie contends that the hazards presented by continuous participation, such as exposure to potentially dangerous drug interactions, are discounted or ignored by research subjects in need of money. The risks to professional guinea pigs are also disregarded by the pharmaceutical industry, which has become dependent on the routine participation of experienced research subjects. Arguing that financial incentives compromise the ethical imperative for informed consent to be freely given by clinical-trials subjects, Abadie confirms the need to reform policies regulating the participation of paid subjects in Phase I clinical trials.
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About the author

Roberto Abadie is a visiting scholar with the Health Sciences Doctoral Programs at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Jul 30, 2010
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Pages
197
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ISBN
9780822393245
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Medical / Ethics
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The pharmaceutical industry has come under intense criticism in recent years. One poll found that 70% of the sample agreed that drug companies put profits ahead of people. Is this perception accurate? Have drug companies traded ethics for profits and placed people at risk?

In Profits before People? Leonard J. Weber exposes pharmaceutical industry practices that have raised ethical concerns. Providing systematic ethical analysis and reflection, he discusses such practices as compensating physicians for serving as speakers or consultants, providing incentives to physicians to enroll patients as subjects in clinical research, and advertising prescription drugs to the public through the mass media. Weber's critique of the industry is stern. While acknowledging that new industry guidelines are promising, he finds much room for improvement in the way drug companies market their products. Yet Weber makes a strong case that profits and ethics can coexist and that they are not mutually exclusive.

In an effort to understand the proper place of commerce in disseminating information about new drugs, the book aims to clarify basic responsibilities and to help identify sound ethical practices. It recognizes that ethics and law are not the same, that "having a right" is different from "doing the right thing," and that taking ethics seriously means recognizing that the law does not answer all questions about what is right. Weber points the way to more demanding standards and better practices that might begin to restore confidence in the drug industry.

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Providing a unique perspective on globalized clinical trials, When Experiments Travel raises central questions: Are such trials exploitative or are they social goods? How are experiments controlled and how is drug safety ensured? And do these experiments help or harm public health in the countries where they are conducted? Empirically rich and theoretically innovative, the book shows that neither the language of coercion nor that of rational choice fully captures the range of situations and value systems at work in medical experiments today. When Experiments Travel challenges conventional understandings of the ethics and politics of transnational science and changes the way we think about global medicine and the new infrastructures of our lives.

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