Possible script for letter to donors regarding Markingson scandal
Dear ____, I am writing to you because you have been an exceptionally generous donor to the University of Minnesota. However, you may not be aware of serious research misconduct in the Department of Psychiatry and the failure of university officials to take any steps to remedy the problem. Many serious scholars believe that vulnerable patients are being placed at risk of death or serious injury. For this reason I am writing to ask you to consider ending your donations until the university takes action to protect these patients. You may be familiar with media reports of one of these incidents. In late 2003, psychiatric researchers at the university coerced a mentally ill young man named Dan Markingson into a research study of antipsychotic drugs sponsored by the pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca. Dan was enrolled in the study over the objections of his mother, Mary Weiss, and despite the fact that he was psychotic and unable to give proper informed consent. Even worse, Dan had been placed under an involuntary commitment order that legally compelled him to obey the recommendations of the psychiatrist who recruited him into the study. For months, Mary tried desperately to get Dan out of the study, warning that he was getting worse and that he was in danger of committing suicide. But her warnings were ignored. On April 23, 2004, she left
a voice message with the study coordinator, asking, “Do we have to wait for him to kill himself or
meone else before anyone does anything?” Three weeks later, Dan’s body was discovered in the
shower of a halfway house, his throat slit so severely that he was nearly decapitated, along with a
suicide note that said, “I went through this experience smiling.”
For nearly ten years, the university has portrayed Dan’s death as an unavoidable, isolated tragedy.
However, the facts suggest otherwise. The psychiatric researchers were receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars for their marketing and consulting work with the pharmaceutical industry. So was the chair of the research ethics committee (Institutional Review Board) charged with protecting subjects of medical research. In addition, according to a 2012 ruling by the Minnesota Board of Social Work, the study coordinator for the research in question committed a number of serious ethical and legal violations, including falsifying the initials of physicians on study charts and failing to respond to warning that Dan was in danger of killing himself. Even worse, when a lawsuit by Mary Weiss against the university was dismissed on technical grounds of
“statutory immunity,” the university lawyers filed a legal action against her called a “notice to assess costs,” demanding that she pay the University of Minnesota
$57,000 in legal fees.
The university’s refusal to deal honestly with the death of Dan Markingson has generated international
outrage. The case has been reported in major scientific journals, including Nature, Science, The British Medical Journal, The Journal of Bioethical Inquiry and the Medical Journal of Australia. Leading figures