Ethics on the Corporate Payroll

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is calling for bioethics institutions and journals to disclose their financial relationships with the biotech industry. So far, the request has mostly fallen on deaf ears. "The industry's increasing recruitment of bioethicists has been widely debated, as has the scope of the contributions," notes Hal Cohen. "Most bioethics institutions don't publish such statistics, leaving the public to draw its own conclusions about conflicts of interest. Industry, on the other hand, trumpets the presence of bioethicists on the corporate payroll." According to CSPI's Virginia Sharpe, ethicists on the payroll are "extremely useful to the companies," enabling them to "reassure the public that the company is consulting with ethics advisers"--even though the advisors aren't necessarily consulted regarding important decisions. "Companies can't always afford to tell the ethicists what they are doing," explains Glenn McGee, professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "One PR misstep and many small biotechs are out of business."