Nine years ago, a young man called Dan Markingson killed himself with a box cutter. The gruesome act, in which Dan almost decapitated himself, was the final escape of a young man suffering from schizophrenia, enrolled in a study on pain of involuntary commitment, and medicated with a blind compound despite his deteriorating moods and behaviour. Dan left a note that simply said “I went through this experience smiling.“
I didn’t encounter Dan’s story until the final year of grad school, while reading Carl Elliott’s White Coat Black Hat. The story in that work, and the growing material on the ‘net, reads as a laundry list of ethical violations—a vulnerable patient enrolled in a clinical trial even though he was deemed unable to take care of himself; researchers—one of whom was Dan’s psychiatrist—whose financial involvement as consultants to the study sponsor, AstraZeneca, were extensive; and a study coordinator who was later found to be making medical judgements and administering drugs without proper qualifications, to say nothing of falsifying signatures and changing Dan’s records after his death. Ignored at every turn despite her concerns, Dan’s mother, Mary Weiss, lost her son.
The story beyond Dan’s death is surreal. The University of Minnesota—through which the study was run—has, to date, countersued Mary, and refused to open an independent inquiry into the matter. The university’s General Counsel, Mark Rotenberg, has even threatened Carl Elliott’s academic freedom. Despite increasing evidence of wrongdoing, UMinn has refused to act.
Dan’s death was horrific; his abuse, unconscionable. Mary and Carl’s efforts have been frustrated at every turn, even though the state of Minessota passed legislation prescribing exactly what precipitated this tragedy—the enrolment of an individual under civil commitment into a clinical trial. It is known as Dan’s Law.
Nine years is a long time to fight for justice.
A petition has been circulating since early this year that asks governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, to appoint an impartial, external panel to investigate Dan’s death. Please sign it. Do it because clinical research ought to be held to the highest ethical standard. Do it because a university that privileges cashflow over truth and academic integrity isn’t worthy of the name. But most of all, do it because Daniel’s family deserve answers, justice, and closure.
Support Mary. Support Carl. Remember Dan.