Stacey B. Lee

Health and Human Rights 12/1

Published June 2010

Abstract

The past several years have seen an evolution in the obligations of pharmaceutical companies conducting clinical trials abroad. Key players, such as international human rights organizations, multinational pharmaceutical companies, the United States government and courts, and the media, have played a significant role in defining these obligations. This article examines how such obligations have developed through the lens of past, present, and future recommendations for informed consent protections. In doing so, this article suggests that, no matter how robust obligations appear, they will continue to fall short of providing meaningful protection until they are accompanied by a substantive enforcement mechanism that holds multinational pharmaceutical companies accountable for their conduct. Issues of national sovereignty, particularly in the United States, will continue to prevent meaningful enforcement by an international tribunal or through one universally adopted code of ethics. This article argues that, rather than continuing to pursue an untenable international approach, the Alien Torts Statute (ATS) offers a viable enforcement mechanism, at least for US-based pharmaceutical companies. Recent federal appellate court precedent interpreting the ATS provides the mechanism for granting victims redress and enforcing accountability of sponsors (usually pharmaceutical companies and research and academic institutions) for informed consent misconduct. Substantive human rights protections are vital in order to ensure that every person can realize the “right to health.” This article concludes that by building on the federal appellate court’s ATS analysis, which grants foreign trial participants the right to pursue claims of human rights violations in US courts, a mechanism can be created for enforcing not only substantive informed consent, but also human rights protections.

 
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