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The recent committee report from the Institute of Medicine in Washington, DC, containing proposals for controlling conflicts of interest1 reflects the medical profession’s limited understanding of the actual scope of the issues and demonstrates how reactive academic physicians have become to media and congressional priorities instead of those of the medical field. The near-exclusive focus on the compromising of medical decision-making by the receipt of fungible support from the commercial sector fails to identify critical interdependencies of the relationship between academic physicians and capitalist industry, the historical and economic context in which it takes place and the other stakeholders in the process who are trying to, or should be trying to, manage similar issues of ethical prioritisation of manpower and resources, allegiances and alliances.
In the process of protecting ourselves, our patients and our institutions from the scourge of the market and its undue influence, we are participating in a much larger discussion, which we are so far neglecting. In redefining academia–industry relations, we are also negotiating over the means of support for translational clinical research, our educational mission as experts and our capacity to serve at centres of excellence in healthcare. Even more fundamentally, the process of examining ourselves and our institutions for conflicts of interest that negatively impact on our ability to protect and to treat our patients, as well as on how we educate the next generations of healthcare workers, goes to the moral core of what it means to be healing arts professionals.
The Institute of Medicine report has chosen to overlook the existing complex …
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