Bioethics Blogs

Book Review: Robert Klitzman’s "The Ethics Police?"

Robert Klitzman insisted on a question mark.
When “The Ethics Police” was in consideration as the attention-grabbing title for Klitzman’s probing and perceptive book about institutional review boards, his initial reaction may also have involved an exclamation point. But key to agreement was a question mark.
Klitzman, a psychiatrist and director of Columbia University’s masters program in bioethics, had no such concern with the subtitle, “The Struggle to Make Human Research Safe,” because that is precisely what his book is about. Making human research safe is indeed a struggle — a profoundly difficult balancing of the public’s eagerness for cures and treatments with the scientific community’s eagerness to respond.
With $100 billion spent annually on biomedical research in the US, the money at stake is staggering and aggressively fought over, ethical shortcuts are tempting, patients themselves increasingly insist on leap-frogging the science, and the terrain is rife with conflicts of interests.
Klitzman’s interest in research and oversight is not purely professional. His father died at age 78 of a blood cancer after an experimental round of chemotherapy that Klitzman talked him into.
“The treatment had arguably made him suffer more, not less,” he writes. “I wondered whether my mother’s wish to let him die in peace had been right — whether I had been biased, too ‘pro-science?’”
He wondered, too, whether his father’s doctor had been overly optimistic about the treatment. He took solace in the hope that his father’s experimental treatment contributed to the care of future patients.
Klitzman’s personal story is no less important to “The Ethics Police?” than his bioethics and medical credentials, his experience as a researcher or his interviews with IRB members.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.