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November 2005

Our Approach to Addressing Potential Conflicts of Interest

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2005;131(11):943-944. doi:10.1001/archotol.131.11.943

The headlines are all too familiar. Politicians, United Nations officials, CEOs, bankers, brokers, pharmaceutical company executives, clergy, football coaches, and physicians have all been caught in the web of “conflict of interest.”

Conflict of interest, as defined by Michael McDonald1 of the W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics (University of British Columbia, Vancouver), is “a situation in which a person, such as a public official, an employee, or a professional, has a private or personal interest sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties.” The private or personal interest is often financial, but it can involve providing an advantage to a friend or family member. If this interest were to conflict with one’s official duties, then obligations to clients, employers, or others must supersede. Conflicts of interest interfere with professional responsibilities through a common pathway, namely, by interfering with objective judgment and violating the trust that is an implicit component of professionalism. For example, patients value their clinicians’ advice because they trust it to be scientifically objective and independent of commercial influence.

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