Policy change comes too late

Daily Editorial Board

Apolicy change took effect at the University of Minnesota this month that prevents researchers from recruiting research subjects from the pool of patients in 72-hour, involuntary emergency holds. 
 
The new policy, which also prohibits recruitment of hospitalized patients in the 12 hours after their emergency hold, is meant to improve University research ethics and better protect human research subjects, school leaders say.
 
The University’s research practices involving human subjects have been under scrutiny since a March report from the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor said the University failed to protect an antipsychotic drug study participant who committed suicide in 2004. In response, administrators stopped enrollment in psychiatric drug trials. In May, they revealed a plan to increase protections for human research subjects by strengthening the school’s Institutional Review Board and beginning to pay the board’s members. 
 
Halting subject recruitment from the pool of emotionally unstable patients in 72-hour emergency holds is a step in the right direction, but one we would have expected the University to have taken much earlier. 
 
We were surprised to learn that a top research university that prides itself on medical discovery hadn’t enacted a policy like this previously. It’s also distressing to consider that researchers have been able to approach people in crisis and ask them to participate in potentially demanding research, like drug studies.
 
Research should be focused on improving the human condition, and that doesn’t involve experiments on the vulnerable. The University should continue an active search for other policy lapses like this one.