Dan Markingson's mother blasts U of M vice president's suicide comments

In the past few weeks, the Minnesota Daily's opinions section has hosted a heated debate on how the University of Minnesota should handle controversy surrounding the 2004 suicide of Dan Markingson.

Today, Markingson's mother entered the discussion.

Mary Weiss penned a letter to the editor responding to U of M Vice President for Research R. Timothy Mulcahy's criticism that the Daily's editorial board was unfairly harsh in putting the suicide at the U's doorstep.

Weiss tells the story of how she tried to pull her son out of the study, but researchers wouldn't listen. She also blasts Mulcahy's argument that independent psychiatrists have looked into the case and cleared the U.

Mulcahy states non-University psychiatrists found no wrongdoing. Of course they found no wrongdoing: These psychiatrists were paid to find no wrongdoing by virtue of the fact that they were "expert witnesses" for the University. Other medial professionals have since disagreed with this assessment.

This chapter of the fight began on February 10, when the Daily's editorial department published a pointed response to the U of M's Board of Regents decision to not reopen the Markingson case, despite a plea to do so from eight bioethicists from the college.

The Daily wrote that the U of M stood to make money from Markingson's role in the study, implying a motive to recruit patients. The editorial said the Regents were now "playing innocent" by choosing not to reopen the case:

The University seems to think that because it was not held liable in court for Markingson's death, it did nothing wrong. This is false; it is a cynical excuse to keep corporate drug money flowing into the University.

Mulcahy was quick to shoot back. In a letter published February 24, titled "The Markingson case deserves better from the Daily," Mulcahy accused the Daily's editorial board of butchering the facts.

Mulcahy denied that the U of M would have profited specifically from recruiting Markingson to the study. He also pointed out that the case had been investigated by a number of external entities -- the FDA and Attorney General, to name a couple -- which the Daily failed to mention. The letter went on to boast the U of M's record in human research protection.

Weiss clearly wasn't swayed by Mulcahy's words.

Her response quotes several experts in psychiatry who have reviewed the Markingson case and found glaring ethical lapses.

The Daily's editorial board accused the Regents of "playing innocent" in the Markingson case.
The Daily's editorial board accused the Regents of "playing innocent" in the Markingson case.

Weiss also explains that the Minnesota Legislature changed the law as a result of her son's case. Passed in 2009, "Dan's Law" stipulates that patients can no longer enroll in a clinical trial while under a state-ordered stay of commitment, like Markingson was.

Weiss ends her letter with a final plea for the U of M psychiatry department to "correct" its practices. Writes Weiss:

But no correction measures have been taken. And the University still tolerates and condones improper, coercive, unethical practices.

What is it going to take for them to change? I really don't know. Hopefully not the death of another parent's precious child.

This back-and-forth is just the latest in a much longer and more complicated debate. Seven years after Markingson suicide, the exchange is further evidence that Weiss isn't ready to drop the issue.

Previous Coverage:

  • Charles Schulz under scrutiny for Seroquel study suicide
  • Dan Markingson's 2004 suicide: U of M Board of Regents won't reopen the case
  • Dan Markingson's suicide: U of M attorney responds
  • Dan Markingson's 2004 suicide: U of M faculty seek investigation

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