Arrow-right Camera


Experiments On Patients Must End Center Not Allowed To Use Involuntary Patients

SUNDAY, FEB. 19, 1995

Medical experiments on patients involuntarily committed to a county psychiatric center must cease pending a hearing on the practice, a judge ruled Friday.

A lawsuit claiming it is inappropriate to ask such patients to consent to becoming guinea pigs was filed Thursday.

The lawyer who filed the suit, Thomas R. Steinmeyer, said when his five clients were patients at the center they were asked to participate in research on the effects of altering medication or replacing it with a placebo.

Steinmeyer said patients confined against their will are by definition unable to consent.

“You have a court, a judicial finding, that a patient can’t make a rational or informed decision about future treatment,” he said. All five declined to sign consent forms, he said.

David Small, administrator of the 250-bed Harris County Psychiatric Center, said federal guidelines permit research on involuntarily committed patients who have agreed to participate.

A person is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital when a judge determines that he is a danger to himself or others, as in the case of a suicide attempt.

While no one ruled mentally incompetent can take part in research, a patient can be involuntarily committed without being ruled incompetent.

The center has 31 patients enrolled in research projects, Small said. Eight of those were involuntarily committed.

The research ranges from the efficacy of music therapy to the study of cocaine withdrawal symptoms. Any drug research is conducted with pharmaceuticals approved by the Federal Drug Administration, Small said.

Tags: ethics

Click here to comment on this story »