Particularly since what's been happening to veterans like James Elliott tugs at the heartstrings, and the American public's attitude toward American soldiers isn't, thank God, what it was in the late sixties and seventies.
The two politicians named in a Washington Times update are presidential candidate Barack Obama and Texas Senator John Cornyn: a Democrat and a Republican. Nicely bi-partisan. each of them sent a letter to James Peake, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, with their views. You'll find links to the letters in the Times article.
For what it's worth, Barack Obama's letter is about twice a long as Senator Cornyn's, but the Texas Senator's is more action-oriented. The first paragraph of each gives a pretty clear picture of what the rest of the letter is like.
"I was very concerned to read this morning's Washington Times and learn that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has yet again failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard the health and well-being of veterans participating in drug trials."
"I request your prompt attention to a troubling report released this morning by ABC News and the Washington Times. According to press accounts, Department of Veterans Affairs medical personnel have been subjecting some of our returning warriors to potentially dangerous clinical trials involving the anti-smoking drug Chantix."
The Times editors think that the House and Senate committee chairs should investigate the matter.
The paper also gives somewhat meaningless statistics about Chantix: "According to the FDA, nearly 40 suicides and more than 400 incidents of suicidal behavior have been linked to Chantix."
The deaths and suicidal behavior are tragic, of course: but it's impossible to tell how big the problem is. If those 400 incidents are out of 1,000 people who have taken the drug, Chantix shouldn't be given to human beings. On the other hand, if those 400 incidents happened in a population of 100,000 people, they're a minority of cases: four tenths of one percent. That's still quite a bit, but might be an acceptable risk in some cases.
The closest that the Times editorial gets to identifying how many people are involved is when it says that "4,796 military veterans are enrolled in post-traumatic stress disorder studies - including 940 in the smoking cessation study that raised red flags. One-hundred-forty-three veterans in this study take Chantix...." It's easy to assume that all 40 suicides and 400 cases of suicidal behavior come from that population of 940, but the editorial does not say that.
Is Experimenting on People Without Their Consent Ethical?No. At least, that's what the Allies decided at the Nürnberg trials, and I'm inclined to agree.
Is using James Elliott as a poster child for the cause of promoting greater Congressional control over the Executive Branch right? That's debatable.
Is using the Chantix SNAFU at the VA as a campaign tool right? It's inevitable, right or wrong.
Is human experimentation at the VA a problem with the American military? Oddly, my answer is no. The American military - and the federal bureaucracy - are involved, but I see this as another case of "medical ethics" being an oxymoron. (See "Chantix and Veteran's Affairs: Who Needs Consent? We Got 'Em, Let's Dose 'Em" (June 17, 2008).)
By the way, if you think the Chantix business was bad, you ain't seen nothin' yet: Lobotomies are back in vogue, or may be soon.
- "Chantix and Veteran's Affairs: Who Needs Consent? We Got 'Em, Let's Dose 'Em"
(June 17, 2008)
- "Chantix, Informed Consent, and the VA: Human Lab Rats?"
BlogCatalog discussion (started June 18, 2008)