Clinical Ethics Office Bumped Upstairs

A federal agency that watches out for the welfare of patients who volunteer as research subjects is getting a promotion. The Office for Protection from Research Risks (OPRR), now located in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will move up the bureaucratic ladder a lofty rung to just beneath the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, according to an HHS spokesperson. The move was prompted in part by a congressional inquiry into the ethics of recruiting children into psychiatric research projects (Science, 19 June 1998, p. 1830).

HHS Secretary Donna Shalala has accepted the recommendations of an independent review panel that looked into this issue and filed a report in June. The panel--co-chaired by bioethicist Nancy Neveloff Dubler of the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, and attorney Renee Landers of Ropes & Gray in Boston--found an inherent conflict in the present system. They noted that OPRR both monitors research at NIH and reports to NIH for supervision. Dubler and Landers wrote that this creates a "perception that OPRR's actions will be biased in favor of research interests and will provide insufficient protection to research subjects." To avoid this perception, they said in their report, OPRR should be moved out of NIH and given a more independent role.

Shalala agrees, according to HHS spokesperson Campbell Gardett, and gave orders today to move the office. The transfer should be completed by next spring.