Conflict Guidelines Approved

Medical Center Board Accepts Rules Without Dissent

In a widely expected move, the board of the Harvard Medical Center on Wednesday approved without dissent a proposal for regulation of conflicts of interest in research, board members said yesterday.

The vote followed months of debate over how the Medical School should limit potential conflicts of interest without inhibiting faculty research. The guidelines, which are less stringent than the original proposal, were approved in a widely publicized Medical School Faculty Council meeting on May 22.

The guidelines were then forwarded as a recommendation to the Medical Center board, which consists of the chief executive officers and chairs of the boards of trustees of the 13 Harvard-affiliated hospitals, as well as Medical School Dean Daniel C. Tosteson '44.

Faculty members said they expected the guidelines to be routinely accepted by the board, since the issue had already been thoroughly discussed at several Faculty Council meetings.

"It was one of the last steps in a process that has gone on for a long time. At this point, I believe that everyone is comfortable that the right end product is in place," said Edward H. Linde, who chairs the Beth Israel Hospital's board of trustees.

With the approval of the Medical Center board, the conflict-of-interest guidelines will take effect at the beginning of the next academic year at both the Med School and its affiliated hospitals.

While most of the hospitals currently have no comprehensive conflict of interest policies, the new guidelines will replace current rules at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Linde said that there was no concern expressed at the meeting over changing policy at the two hospitals. "I don't think anyone thought there was a serious problem in making the transition," he said.

While most Medical area affiliates were pleased with the final approval of the guidelines, one public interest group was disappointed, saying the rules were too weak.

Jaron Bourke '88, director of the Ralph Nader-sponsored group Harvard Watch, said he hand delivered letters to each hospital, urging board members to consider a more restrictive policy.

The approved guidelines set up a committee which reviews potential conflicts of interest on a case-by-case basis, and requires full disclosure of certain outside research activities.

Bourke said this policy does not provide enough control over the research process and does not require public disclosure. He said that setting up a committee with no direction leaves the process ineffective.

"A Reaganesque lack of accountability has impaired Harvard University from enforcing its rules in the past, and has compelled the public to live with the consequences of a for-profit faculty," Bourke said.

Although the approval of the guidelines by the board is a setback for Harvard Watch, Bourke said that it is necessary to keep applying pressure for more accountability.

"Even rocks melt if you apply enough heat. Harvard sometimes seems to be a boulder," Bourke said.

Bourke said that none of the hospital directors have responded to his letters or requests for meetings.