Case and Commentary
Aug 2001

My Doctor the Researcher

Kayhan Parsi, JD, PhD
Virtual Mentor. 2001;3(8):259-260. doi: 10.1001/virtualmentor.2001.3.8.hlaw1-0108.


Dr. Fiddler learns about a contract research organization that matches pharmaceutical companies who are conducting clinical research trials with physicians. The company wants to test a new medication for prostate cancer and will pay Dr. Fiddler a lump sum of $3000 for each patient of hers whom she enrolls in the clinical trial. She will follow the patients and document their responses to the trial therapy. Dr. Fiddler thinks several of her patients are suitable candidates for the study. The first one she talks to is Mr. Upinsky. During the informed consent process, Dr. Fiddler properly informs Mr. Upinsky about the risks and benefits of the trial and her role as a clinical investigator. She explains that she will continue to be his physician, that the trial is not a treatment, that he can withdraw from the trial at any time, and that he owes her no duty to participate. She does not tell Mr. Upinsky that she is being paid by the pharmaceutical company to enroll subjects in the trial.

Dr. Fiddler believes that the amount she is receiving will cover her administrative costs and produce a small profit. She has no financial investment in the pharmaceutical company that is conducting the trial. Dr. Fiddler sees no ethical conflict in enrolling her patients in the clinical trial, as long as they understand that it is not a treatment and that they are free to decide whether or not to participate.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Is Dr. Fiddler's arrangement with the pharmaceutical company ethical? 
  2. Does disclosure or non-disclosure of Dr. Fiddler's financial arrangement to candidate clinical trial subjects make an ethical difference?

See what the AMA Code of Medical Ethics says about this topic in Opinion 8.032. Conflicts of Interest in the Conduct of Clinical Trials. American Medical Association. Code of Medical Ethics 1998-1999 Edition. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; 1998.


Virtual Mentor. 2001;3(8):259-260.



The people and events in this case are fictional. Resemblance to real events or to names of people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.