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Letters to the Editor
August 1999

Addressing Ethical Issues in the Psychiatric Research Literature

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999;56(8):763-764. doi:

Allegations of ethical problems in psychiatric research have received intense public attention in the past few years. Two of the most widely publicized examples are research involving withdrawing medication from patients with schizophrenia at the University of California, Los Angeles, investigated by the US Office of Protection From Research Risks, and litigation concerning research conducted by the New York State Office of Mental Health.1,2 Philip J. Hilts, writing in the science section of The New York Times, described a range of psychiatric research considered to be ethically problematic, including "challenge" experiments in which psychiatric patients were administered drugs to study provoked symptoms.3The Boston Globe recently published a 4-part series, entitled "Doing Harm: Research on the Mentally Ill," detailing alleged abuses of human subjects in psychiatric research.4-7 The use of placebos in research that tests new drugs to treat psychiatric disorders has also been criticized in the professional medical literature.8 In December 1998, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission issued a comprehensive report and recommendations on research involving subjects who suffer from psychiatric disorders with the potential to impair decision-making capacity.9