J Med Ethics 30:8-24 doi:10.1136/jme.2003.005702
  • The Olivieri symposium

Biomedical conflicts of interest: a defence of the sequestration thesis—learning from the cases of Nancy Olivieri and David Healy

  1. A Schafer
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor Arthur Schafer
 Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, University of Manitoba, 220 Dysart Road, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3T 2M8;
  • Accepted 1 September 2003


No discussion of academic freedom, research integrity, and patient safety could begin with a more disquieting pair of case studies than those of Nancy Olivieri and David Healy. The cumulative impact of the Olivieri and Healy affairs has caused serious self examination within the biomedical research community. The first part of the essay analyses these recent academic scandals. The two case studies are then placed in their historical context—that context being the transformation of the norms of science through increasingly close ties between research universities and the corporate world. After a literature survey of the ways in which corporate sponsorship has biased the results of clinical drug trials, two different strategies to mitigate this problem are identified and assessed: a regulatory approach, which focuses on managing risks associated with industry funding of university research, and a more radical approach, the sequestration thesis, which counsels the outright elimination of corporate sponsorship. The reformist approach is criticised and the radical approach defended.


  • Disclaimer: The author has not been funded by any drug company. He has appeared at three press conferences with Nancy Olivieri, at which his (unpaid) role was to analyse and evaluate the ethical issues raised by her dispute with Apotex, the Hospital for Sick Children, and the University of Toronto.

  • Arthur Schafer is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Manitoba and Director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.