From the newsletter of Minnesota Rep. Connie Bernardy (41-A):
On Tuesday, the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee held a hearing which featured an update on activities at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychiatry. Because subjects of this research are often vulnerable members of our community, I requested the hearing about these practices, some of which are alarming. Niki Gjere, a constituent of mine and psychiatric nurse specialist and former U of M Institutional Review Board member, is one of those who blew the whistle about these concerns, and provided testimony. You can view the hearing on YouTube here.
In 2015, the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor conducted a pair of in-depth evaluations regarding the department. Most notably was an investigation into the case of Dan Markingson, a young man who was a victim of suicide while he was participating in a drug study administered by the department in 2004. In the wake of this tragedy, the OLA report noted the case involved “serious ethical issues and numerous conflicts of interest” and U of M leaders “made misleading statements about previous reviews and been consistently unwilling to discuss or even acknowledge that serious ethical issues and conflicts are involved.”
While we lost Dan Markingson well over a decade ago, it seems that the U of M has kept up a similar pattern regarding this research. During the meeting we got to hear from OLA staff and several whistleblowers who encouraged us to keep up scrutiny of the human research operations.
Whether at a public institution such as the University of Minnesota or a private facility, the public rightfully has an expectation that research performed in this manner is done with the highest ethical standards and be absent any conflict of interest. Also, those aware of adverse actions in this research shouldn’t be fearful of blowing the whistle.
Many of the participants in these studies are our loved ones, including friends, family members, and neighbors. It’s important that we give voices to the people who can’t speak for themselves, and make sure people in positions of power and authority hear them.