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Dr. Klitzman: Why I Wanted to Investigate IRBs

On Bloomberg Radio, M.S. program in Bioethics director Dr. Robert Klitzman discussed his new book The Ethics Police?.

The book explores the institutional review boards (IRBs) that oversee human subject research, and the conflicts that arise when we fail to closely examine and regulate IRBs: While these review boards are essential to approving potentially life-saving treatments, they also run the risk of harming these patients, which is why further study of IRBs is more urgent than ever.

Klitzman witnessed the fraught intervention of medical experimentation when his father fell ill. “A few years ago, my father died, unfortunately. He had leukemia. The doctor had told us that he would probably die in about three months. There was no standard treatment, but the doctor said with some enthusiasm that [they] could do a bit of an experiment,” he said. “‘This is an experimental chemotherapy we could try, and it could give him a 50 percent chance of living three to eighteen months.’ I had recently finished my medical training, and I didn't work in science, and I thought, ‘Let's try the experimental stuff. Why not? Let's go for it.’ Well, he decided to do it, largely because of me, I think.”

Klitzman said, “Three months later to the day, he died. It was a terrible last three months. He said, ‘I just don't want to go on living.’ I've been haunted by that ever since,” Klitzman said. “I felt that the doctor didn't really give us enough background. I was horrified because, even though I've done research and had people enter experiments that I had run, I never really thought what it was really like to be on the other side. So I got interested in how we police science. How do we [oversee] what is done in experiments?”