July 4, 2022

Bioethicists slated for ties to industry

A bioethicist from Canada’s McGill University has made a stinging attack on his colleagues for snuggling up to commercial interests to secure funding. Writing in Nature Biotechnology, Leigh Turner asks, “if bioethicists are incapable of maintaining financial and intellectual independence from the drug industry, what purpose will their social commentary serve?” He accuses the discipline of betraying its roots in social critiques of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it criticised the conduct of biomedical research.

Like the outspoken philosopher Carl Elliott, Turner argues that “30 years later, the independence and integrity of bioethics is in question, and bioethicists risk being perceived as corporate pawns whose social commentary is compromised by their corporate ties”. The coda to his philippic is scathing: “Elliott’s depiction of bioethics as lapdog is perhaps too generous a characterisation. More porcine imagery is needed to convey the rush towards corporate consultation, research contracts and advisory gigs.”