“Pay no attention to the bloody corpse in the bathroom”

Imagine for a minute that you work in a medical school. Your job is to make sure that human subjects in medical experiments are protected from harm. Then imagine that you learn there has been a horrific, unexpected death in a psychiatric study. Five months after a young man was signed up for the study over the objections of his mother, his body was found in a blood-soaked bathroom. His head has been nearly decapitated. A box-cutter is frozen in his hand, which he apparently managed to jam into a gaping wound in his abdomen before he died. What do you do?

Here at the University of Minnesota, the answer seems to be: “Nothing special.” If you don’t believe me, have a look at this testimony by Richard Bianco, the university official responsible for overseeing human research. The young man whose body was found in the bathroom was named Dan Markingson.

Q: Has the IRB (the university’s research ethics board) done any investigation into the death of Dan Markingson?

A: Not a formal investigation, no.

Q: Has the university done any investigation into the death of Dan Markingson?

A: No.

And later:

Q: To the best of your knowledge, did anyone at the IRB, at the University of Minnesota, or anyone under your office investigate this case, actually look at the records and see the court documents that I’m describing, and if so, could you give me the name of that person?

A: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Nobody did that.

A: No.

For the record, let me make sure this is clear. The bloody corpse of a young research subject is found in the bathroom of a halfway house; he has mutilated himself violently with a box-cutter, nearly severing his own head; and the university’s research oversight body decides there is nothing worth investigating. What could possibly explain this choice?

Read the rest of this article by Carl Elliott on Medium.

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