The University of Minnesota's steely defense of its human research program is finally unraveling after the Office of the Legislative Auditor released a lengthy roast of the University's treatment of a drug study subject more than a decade ago.
Following that report, the U voluntarily suspended recruitment for the Department of Psychiatry's ongoing projects.
Dan Markingson, 26, was recruited for a U of M human experiment in late 2003. He was severely mentally ill, experiencing visions of an alien takeover and threatening to kill his mother. Markingson was court-ordered to hospital commitment, but his treating psychiatrist - Dr. Stephen Olson of the University of Minnesota - offered to sign him up for a clinical drug trial instead.
Markingson's mother, Mary Weiss, was vehemently opposed to letting him take part in an experiment. As time went on, she was the only person who spoke out about his declining health. Researchers and Markingson's care team insisted he was just fine.
Five months after signing out to work with U of M, Markingson died by suicide, slashing his neck and stomach in a bathroom. A toxicology test showed that he had the study drug, AstraZeneca's anti-psychotic Seroquel, in his system.
The legislative auditor's report paints a mindboggling picture of incompetency, coercion and evasion on the University's part over the past decade that should have been obvious to previous investigators.
Markingson had been unfit to live on his own, yet a Hennepin County judge decided he was fit to sign a release agreeing to be a human lab experiment. There were many conflicts of interest between Dr. Olson and the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice investigator who absolved him of any wrongdoing.
Worse yet, the University continuously deflected outside reviews. The Board of Regents wrote in 2011 that no more time and money should be spent investigating the incident. In 2013, University president Eric Kaler repeated his opinion that additional review of the Markingson case was unwarranted.
Now, that attitude is finally shifting.
"We believe that the University's statements were not misleading, but in retrospect, with the recent broader review performed by the external panel and the Legislative Auditor's report, we are now aware that some of our practices have not been above reproach," Kaler wrote in a statement.
It took the University of Minnesota 11 years to reach that conclusion.
Markingson's friend, Mike Howard, wrote in a letter to the Office of the Legislative Auditor that throughout that time, "the University of Minnesota has made us feeling as if we have no voice, no rights and absolutely nothing remotely called justice."
He suspects that if it weren't for whistleblowers within the University and the involvement of former governor Arne Carlson, U of M might have been content to never revisit Markingson's final months.
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