Carl Elliott

Carl Elliott is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics and the author of Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream.

Recent Articles

We'll Test It on Them

The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World's Poorest Patients by Sonia Shah (The New Press, 242 pages, $24.95) The Great Starvation Experiment: The Heroic Men Who Starved so that Millions Could Live by Todd Tucker (The Free Press, 288 pages, $26.00) What brings a moral transgression up to the level of a full-blown ethics scandal? In clinical medicine, a handful of scandals have been memorialized in textbooks as case studies of unethical research. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is the most notorious, but there are many others, such as the study at the Willowbrook State School in New York, where mentally retarded children were intentionally infected with the hepatitis A virus in the early 1960s, or the study at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in Brooklyn, where 22 elderly patients were injected with live cancer cells. The most recent candidate for notoriety took place in 1999 at the University of Pennsylvania, where the 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger died in a gene-therapy study...

A Life of One's Own

The Ethics of Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah ( Princeton University Press, 384 pages, $29.95 ) Many of us, when we pause to reflect on the larger questions, tend to think of our lives as vast projects that we are responsible for planning, organizing, and living out to completion. We often think, in fact, that a successful project must be one that we have tailored to ourselves as individuals. As John Stuart Mill put it, a person's “own mode of laying out his existence is the best, not because it is the best in itself, but because it is his own mode.” But the choices about how to live that are available to us depend, of course, on who exactly we happen to be: male or female, gay or straight, American or Japanese, Baptist or Muslim. And, to a large extent, who we happen to be is not actually a matter of choice. We don't choose our grandparents, as the saying goes -- but neither, in the ordinary course of things, do we choose our gender, our nationality, or our mother tongue. This leaves...

Can't Swallow It Anymore

On the Take: How Medicine's Complicity With Big Business Can Endanger Your Health By Jerome P. Kassirer • Oxford University Press • 288 pages • $28.00 The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs By Merrill Goozner • University of California Press • 297 pages • $24.95 Powerful Medicines: The Benefits, Risks, and Costs of Prescription Drugs By Jerry Avorn • Alfred A. Knopf • 448 pages • $27.50 Could we finally be seeing a backlash against the pharmaceutical industry? After all those headlines about Medicaid fraud, research abuse, data suppression, class-action lawsuits, recalled drugs, conflict-of-interest scandals, corporate whistleblowers, ghost- written research papers, and kickbacks to physicians -- not to mention the video clips of elderly New Englanders hauling their walkers onto chartered buses to fill their monthly prescriptions in Canada -- is the American public finally getting wise to Big Pharma? According to a Harris poll reported in the British Medical...

Forever Young

Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion By Brian Alexander, Basic Books, 289 pages, $25.95 Merchants of Immortality: Chasing the Dream of Human Life Extension By Stephen S. Hall, Houghton Mifflin, 439 pages, $25.00 To see what happens when market forces meet wishful thinking, just have a look at the history of anti-aging medicine. In the 1920s, an American doctor named John Romulus Brinkley began transplanting goat testicles into human recipients, at a fee of $750 per patient, on the theory that male aging was caused by declining hormone production. In 1972, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation began advertising its services to customers who wished to have their heads suspended in liquid nitrogen when they died, in the hope that they would someday be resurrected. For centuries, Chinese doctors taught that aging could be postponed by the regular consumption of human urine -- a remedy that, if not all that effective, at least had the virtue of being cheap. Until very recently, many...

Pill Pushovers

The Big Fix: How the Pharmaceutical Industry Rips Off American Consumers by Katherine Greider, Public Affairs, 189 pages, $14.00 A couple of months ago, I was invited to give a presentation for the psychiatry department at another medical school. The topic was medical ethics, and I was planning to talk especially about the growing influence of the drug industry on psychiatry. Just as I was about to be introduced, the psychiatrist who had invited me leaned over and whispered, "Do you mind if I thank Janssen Pharmaceuticals for sponsoring your presentation?" I should have known. According to The Wall Street Journal , the drug industry now funds 40 percent of continuing medical education in United States medical schools. In most fields that figure would be shocking. Imagine nutritionists allowing 40 percent of their professional education to be funded by McDonald's and Burger King, or political scientists allowing 40 percent of their graduate seminars to be paid for by the weapons...

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