Tag Archives: University of Minnesota

Successful Action at the Board of Regents meeting last Friday

Friday’s vigil and action at the Board of Regents’ meeting was a great success! The credit goes to an extraordinary University of Minnesota medical student, Eden Almasude, who planned and led the demonstration; her fellow medical students with Physicians for Human Rights; and the gutsy members of Students for a Democratic Society.

Here’s the way it played out. After a vigil outside the McNamara Alumni Center, a group of four students wearing white coats carried a black coffin to the door of the Board of Regents conference room, where they were confronted by security guards. Soon afterwards, several dozen demonstrators filed quietly to the front of the conference room, where each of us presented a single flower to Board of Regents Chairman Richard Beeson. Beeson responded by shouting into the microphone and threatening to have the room cleared. It was very satisfying.

Later in the public meeting, Leigh Turner, a professor in the Center for Bioethics, delivered a blistering speech to the Regents about their baffling refusal to address mounting evidence of research abuse and misconduct in the Department of Psychiatry. He was followed by two SDS members, Johnathon Walker and Chris Getowicz. All of them were shouted down by Chairman Beeson as their time at the podium expired.

You can see photos, video and speeches on the Facebook page for “Community Alliance for Ethics in Minnesota Psychiatry.”

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Community-Alliance-for-Ethics-in-Minnesota-Psychiatry/377132245708063

For those of you who could not be there: our call-in campaign to the Regents and Governor Mark Dayton is still ongoing. Please voice your support for the cause by sending an email message to Brian Steeves, Executive Director of the Board of Regents, and cc-ing the email to Governor Mark Dayton. We have two questions:

1) How many research subjects have died or been seriously injured in psychiatric research studies at the university since the current Chair of Psychiatry, Dr. Charles Schulz, was appointed in 1999?

2) Why is President Eric Kaler refusing to investigate the suicide of Dan Markingson?

Send the email to:
Brian Steeves: bsteeves@umn.edu

Then go to this website and send it to Mark Dayton.

https://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/

Thanks again for all of your support. We do appreciate it very much.

Carl Elliott

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Please ask donors to stop funding the University of Minnesota

First, thanks to all of you who have called Governor Dayton or the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents. We are very grateful for your help in demanding action to protect research subjects at the university. Today, we are rolling out the second phase of our campaign, and we need to ask for your help again.

If we are going to get action, we need to hit the university where it hurts: the wallet. Over the past week, some of us have begun writing to major donors. We are asking them to consider ending their donations to the university unless the administration takes action to protect psychiatric research subjects. We hope you will consider doing the same.

At this link, you will find a list of major donors, along with addresses, phone numbers, and in some cases, email addresses. We would like for you to write, call or email them. (Note: please take the Honeywell Foundation off the list.)  Of course, you are entirely free to compose your own letter or email. But if you need help, we have prepared a template for a letter or email that you can find at this link.

You might also want to send copies of articles about the Dan Markingson scandal and other issues. Among the articles you might consider are:

Making a Killing, Carl Elliott, Mother Jones

Patient’s suicide forces belated university investigation, David Cyranoski, Nature

The U of M should thoroughly investigate issues in the Markingson case, Leigh Turner, MinnPost

Pay no attention to the bloody corpse in the bathroom, Carl Elliott, Medium

A Clinical Trial and Suicide Leave Many Questions: Part 5: The Case of the Mysteriously Appearing Documents, Judy Stone, Scientific American

Will the U review or whitewash a research subject’s death?, Matt Lamkin et al, Minneapolis Star Tribune

For the sake of efficiency, we would like to keep track of which donors have been contacted. So when you call or write to a donor, please leave a comment on this post or send an email to me at my university email address.

Again, thank you very much. It has been a hard battle, and we could not have fought it for so long without your help.

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Carl Elliott speaks at Northwestern University on the death of Dan Markingson

At an NIH-sponsored conference at Northwestern University in 2012, Carl Elliott spoke about the suicide of Dan Markingson in the CAFE study at the University of Minnesota.

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The slow torture of Mary Weiss

Last week I got an email from Mike Howard.  It had been sent at 3:56 am.  “Sorry for this email, but Mary suffered another stroke last evening.  I’m heading down to the hospital now again.”

I wish I could say this came as a shock.  But to be honest, I can’t.  How anyone can survive the kind of psychological torture Mary Weiss has been forced to endure I don’t know.  When I think of Mary, I think of the Book of Job.  I think of God making a deal with the University of Minnesota.  You can take away her child.  Let him commit suicide.  Hide the facts.  Deny responsibility.  Refuse to investigate. Tell people that her son’s suicide was her fault.  File a legal action against her demanding money that she does not have, just to intimidate her.  See exactly how much she can stand, then torture her some more.

When I first met Mary, five years ago, she was a strong, determined, very angry woman.  It was the fall of 2008 at the Coffee News Café in St. Paul; I remember she was wearing an Obama campaign button on her sweater.  But everything changed sixteen months ago when she suffered a severe stroke.She has fought back hard to recover, but the road hasn’t been easy. It seems as if a month doesn’t pass without Mike calling the paramedics, or rushing her to the doctor, or taking her to the emergency room. This recent stroke was the most severe setback in a while. Mary has been in the hospital for twelve days.

Fighting the University of Minnesota may have been the right thing for Mary to do – in fact, it may well have been the only thing to do – but it has taken a vicious toll on her health.  I don’t think anyone who has not gone through such a battle can understand the kind of emotional exhaustion it involves. Your days cycle between gnawing anxiety and futile rage. Your thoughts grow narrow and obsessive. You struggle to sleep, but when you do, you are tormented by nightmares.  Occasionally you are given slivers of hope – if not, it probably would be impossible to keep going – but they are rare.  Even the people who support you say you are being eaten up from the inside.

Worst of all are the empty promises of help. You file a complaint with an advocate or legal office, only to see the complaint go nowhere. You find damning evidence that might turn the battle in your favor, but you’re instructed that it has to be kept secret. You work constantly to make the case public, hoping that publicity will bring about change, but after only a few days the story is forgotten. You meet with reporters and politicians who promise to help, but they don’t follow through. Nobody seems to understand what a devastating blow it is to delay, or stop returning calls, or offer help and then pull it away. To them it probably seems like a small thing. But when you are desperate, these false promises feel like a kick in the head. They are almost worse than nothing at all.

Nobody knows this better than Mike Howard. It has been 3397 days since Dan died, and I doubt that a single one of those days has passed without Mike working on the case.To call him driven would be to completely understate the fury with which he has pursued this. He is like a man imprisoned on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, fighting and clawing to find some way out before the execution date. There is not a single document related to Dan’s case that he has not committed to memory, not an angle for appeal that he has not explored. And what is the result? “We have worked on this thing for nine fucking years and we have gotten nothing,” Mike says. No vindication, no recognition, no justice.

Maybe justice will come eventually. I hope so, not just for Mary’s sake but for that of other families who have been abused and mistreated by the university. I wish every family had advocates as tenacious and single-minded as Mike, but people like that don’t come around very often. The fact is, University of Minnesota officials have known for a long time that they are fighting an injured, emotionally exhausted 70 year-old woman in fragile health, and they believe they can crush her.  They believe they can accomplish this not by attacking her directly, as they have done before, but by a series of endless denials, delays and stonewalling.  If they can outlast her, they think, they will win.  And apparently many other people will simply watch and wait until that happens.

Carl Elliott

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An open records request for imaginary documents

For anybody out there who’s still keeping up with these things: I’ve submitted yet another Data Practices Act request to the University of Minnesota.  Of course, I’ve submitted quite a few of these requests in the past, but there is something  unusual about this one.  This time I am asking for documents that probably don’t exist.

On September 1, 2010, General Counsel Mark Rotenberg issued a press release in response to my article in Mother Jones magazine about the death of Dan Markingson.  Rotenberg claimed that the issues I had raised in the article had already been reviewed by “the University and its IRB,” among other bodies, and that none of these “reviews” had found any fault with the university or any university faculty members.  Although this claim was repeated by Rotenberg and others many times in the years that followed, neither Rotenberg nor anyone else at the university has ever produced these “reviews” — not the review supposedly conducted by the IRB, and not the review supposedly conducted by “the University.”  In fact, according to the deposition of Richard Bianco, the university official in charge of research oversight, the IRB never even conducted a review.

Do did these reviews occur or not?  If they did, they should be publicly available under state law. But if they did not occur, as I strongly suspect, then we should be told explicitly that they did not occur. That’s the question that I am hoping my latest Data Practices Act request will answer.

Of course, longtime blog-watchers will remember when I’ve made these Data Practices Act requests in the past, I’ve been stonewalled again and again. The university has sent replies ranging from “We destroyed those records” and “We can’t give you that” to “We can’t seem to find those particular records.”  I suspect the university will come up with some creative way to avoid answering my request this time as well.  But I am a glutton for punishment.

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“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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