Considering the Life and Legacy of Henry K. Beecher

by Krystal Bradford, CIP, Research Compliance Specialist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

PRIM&R is pleased to share a post from Krystal Bradford, CIP, a member of the PRIM&R Blog Squad for the 2014 Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference. The PRIM&R Blog Squad is composed of PRIM&R members who will blog here, on Ampersand, about the conference to give our readers an inside peek of what happened December 4-7 in Baltimore, MD.

Throughout the 2014 AER Conference, I had been looking forward to the last day. The slated keynote presentation, titled Beyond the Bombshell: The Legacy of Henry K. Beecher’s Call for Reform in Clinical Research Ethics, was one that I was eager to attend. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed. The session was so informative!

At times, within the research community, we can become desensitized to the history that gave way to our current system of research oversight. Susan E. Lederer, PhD, Robert Turell Professor of History of Medicine and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, offered a powerful reminder about why it is so important to remember that history. She spoke about Henry K. Beecher, an individual with whom many in the field are familiar. Beecher, the author of the seminal article, “Ethics and Clinical Research,” is often credited with prompting positive change in the clinical research enterprise.

Dr. Lederer’s talk was refreshing look at the historic paper and offered insight into the man behind the article. She highlighted the dysfunctional relationship that Dr. Beecher had with his father and noted how that experience, as well as others, helped form Dr. Beecher’s moral compass. Dr. Beecher’s drive for success was fueled by his desire to support his mother and sister. He rapidly made his way through his formal education and into the professional world. In June 1966, while a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Beecher submitted an article to the New England Journal of Medicine. The article outlined multiple examples of unethical research that he had observed. He went on to explain in the article that this was not uncommon and sadly becoming more and more the mainstream.

In response to the article, Dr. Beecher was criticized by his peers, but he stood firm and committed to his principles. In writing that piece, Dr. Beecher shed light on the realization that medical research being conducted in the United States could be unethical. His work and the resulting public attention helped lay the groundwork for the current regulatory system in place for the protection of human subjects. To explore this important story further, I encourage you to take a moment to read “Laying Ethical Foundations for Clinical Research,” an excellent article written by Lederer, Jon Harkness, and Daniel Wikler.

Dr. Lederer’s presentation was a great end to a wonderful conference. Over the course of three days, so much information was presented, so many wonderful conversations took place, and so many great resources were shared.

PRIM&R would like to thank Krystal for her participation in our 2014 AER Conference Blog Squad. If you’d like to participate in 2015, you can learn more by visiting our website. Additionally, if you have a session or speaker idea for 2015, please share it via our Call for Session Proposals and Speaker Suggestions