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Do New NIH Ethics Rules Go Too Far?
The National Institute of Health has been assaulted by the press for allowing government- regulated companies to hire NIH employees as consultants. The usual congressional investigations followed. In response, and as a damage control measure, the NIH Director recently announced new ethics rules. The new rules have not been cheered by NIH employees, who are reported to be generally outraged at the scope and severity of the new rules.

Winston agrees that federal employees should not be paid by the companies they regulate. The new NIH rules do, however, seem extreme in some respects. As Winston understands them, they require all NIH employees to jettison stock above $15,000 in all pharmaceutical, biotech. health care, and health insurance companies. Winston also understands that NIH employees cannot receive outside cash awards for their work over $200. There is an exception for the Nobel Prize if NIH management approves the award.

These requirements seem neither fair nor necessary. The NIH is primarily a scientific research institution specializing in human health issues. While NIH research may be used by the Government to regulate, it is not a regulatory agency in the same sense as, say, the FDA, the FTC or EPA. There is a substantial body of generally accepted ethical practices for scientific researchers. The new NIH rules seem to go far beyond the general practices.

The greater public concern is these rules's impact on public health and safety. The NIH now has some of the best scientists and doctors in the world. These men and women do research that saves lives. They can find better-paid employment in the private sector. The new rules may convince many of them to do just that. The NIH Director himself reportedly admits that the new ethical rules will hurt recruitment and retention of the best qualified scientists.

Based on what he's read so far, Winston believes the new NIH ethics rules go too far, are unfair to NIH employees, and could jeopardize public health.

  • Click for summary of new NIH ethics rules.

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