March 31, 2008
The New England Journal of Medicine just published an article about a lung cancer study that could save your life if you are a smoker. The study conducted by Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College revealed that 80 % of lung cancer deaths could be prevented by CT scans. However the study was indirectly funded by the Ligget Group, which is a cigarette company! Many foundations and not for profit organizations refuse donations from the tobacco industry.
There are different ethical aspects to this complex issue.
Lack of Transparency: The funding for the study of $3.6 million came from an unknown not for profit organization call the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection Prevention & Treatment. However the Foundation was itself funded by the Ligget group, a tobacco company. The Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine was unaware of the connection. Some studies have been made that indicate that sponsors give money for research to influence, in their favor the outcome of the study, hence the incentive in sponsoring the research in the first place.
Motivation: What was the true motivation of the Ligget Group? Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine believes that the motivation was to diminish the seriousness of lung cancer. He said: "They want to show that lung cancer is not so bad because screening can save people. That is outrageous."
Blood Money: Should we accept money for a good cause from an individual or corporation when we strongly disagree with the donor’s views and or disapprove of his or her activities? One should not give a simplistic answer to the question. It would be preferable from an ethics point of view not to accept such donations and try to find funding elsewhere. There may be some situations however when lives are at stake where we might decide, as a last resort, to accept such donations.
If you are a smoker, get a CT scan now!! It can’t hurt you (you know that cigarettes will) and it could save you life. That to me is the ultimate ethical concern.