Did a government-funded experiment put the lives of 1,316 premature babies at serious risk? Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson explains the ethical debate surrounding a multiyear study of these fragile infants, in the third part of her “Full Disclosure”series for The Daily Signal.
SUPPORT, a study that deliberately manipulated oxygen levels assigned to extremely premature babies, was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services. The body responsible for monitoring ethics violations in such studies, the Office for Human Research Protections, is also a part of HHS.
According to Attkisson’s report, this resulted in a “government vs. government” dispute. “The federal government funded the study, basically approved the study, [and] oversaw the study,” she said in the interview. “I think it’s clear that the federal government, at the very least, made a mistake.”
The HHS ethics body’s attempts to enforce what it found to be violations of the parental consent process stalled because of “pressure by the research community and by senior officials in the federal government who really didn’t want this to go much further,” Attkisson said. Going forward, she argues, “There needs to be something that’s said at the end of all this. What did the researchers do wrong, what do they need to do to correct this and make sure the same type of thing doesn’t happen again?”