Disclosure is inadequate as a solution to conflicts of interest in research

Student Essay Max Charlesworth (Bioethics) Prize Winner

 Helene Jacmon1

1Monash University

Disclosure is a common response to conflicts of interest; it is intended to expose the conflict to scrutiny and enable it to be appropriately managed. For disclosure to be effective the receiver of the disclosure needs to be able to use the information to assess how the conflict may impact on their interests, and then implement a suitable response. The act of disclosure is also intended to trigger some self-regulation, as the person with the conflicting interests will be mindful of their own potential biases and aware that their decisions may be monitored. In this presentation I will discuss some of the problems of relying on disclosure as a solution to address conflicts of interest in research. I will focus particularly on issues around the ability of research participants to manage the conflict of interest. I explore these issues in the context of the Dan Markingson case–a research participant who committed suicide during a clinical trial. I will conclude that disclosure is not sufficient to address the issue of conflicts of interest in research because: 1) participants are not well placed to accurately assess the potential impact the conflict may have on them; 2) self management is unreliable; and 3) effective management is further compromised when individual conflicts are complementary to the associated institution’s conflicts.



Helene Jacmon is currently studying towards a Master of Bioethics at Monash University. Helene previously worked in Government in a variety of roles including administrative policy, law interpretation and project management. Helene is interested in ethical issues arising from health/social policy and is passionate about justice.