Turning UK Patients into Human Guinea Pigs

by Wesley J. Smith

Well, this is alarming. A proposed bill in the UK would permit doctors to experiment on their patients. From the “Medical Innovation Bill:”

(2) It is not negligent for a doctor to depart from the existing range of accepted medical treatments for a condition, in the circumstances set out in subsection 3), if the decision to do so is taken responsibly.

And get the open-ended license subsection 3 creates:

(3) Those circumstances are where, in the doctor’s opinion—(a) it is unclear whether the medical treatment that the doctor proposes to carry out has or would have the support of a responsible body of medical opinion, or (b) the proposed treatment does not or would not have such support.

That’s inexcusably vague. So what does it mean? UK law professor Jacqueline Laing explains on her blog:

Medical practitioners in the UK will be given considerable freedom to experiment on patients if the new Medical Innovation Bill becomes law. Ignoring human rights concerns, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt reasons that it is the role of the government to do whatever is needed to remove barriers that prevent medical innovation. “We must create a climate where clinical pioneers have the freedom to make breakthroughs in treatment”, he argues. He has, however, fundamentally misunderstood the responsibilities of government to protect the lives, freedoms and safety of its citizens…
The draft bill offers few if any concrete restraints on medical experimentation on patients whether terminally ill or otherwise. On the contrary, the proposed legislation invites widespread, unaccountable, degrading and inhuman treatment.

I’d say that’s pretty clear since the bill only requires that “the decision be taken responsibly.” For that matter, Neither is there anything in the bill restricting the unapproved experimentation to the dying.

Laing is also disturbed by the lack of standards:

In short, medical experimentation on patients is mainstreamed while no clear conditions as to what would constitute degrading and inhuman treatment are anywhere outlined. Indeed, the very possibility of degrading and inhuman treatment is not considered, whether in the language of the bill or in any preamble, and safeguards nowhere outlined.

Sorry. In our increasingly utilitarian medical milieu–and where costs are a factor–such loosey goosey language should be completely unacceptable. Laing agrees:

Routine medical experimentation on patients, particularly the dying, naturally undermines patient safety, endangers the desperate, and makes forensic determinations of medical wrongdoing almost impossible….


Mainstreaming medical innovation on the dying, while refusing to address the very real danger of degrading and inhuman treatment leaving it to multi-disciplinary teams governed by easily alterable GMC guidance, suggests the bill introduces new human rights incompatibilities over and above those produced by existing mental incapacity and clinical trials regulations.

I agree. Indeed, given the utter lack of standards by which to measure a physician’s experimentation, I can’t see coming to any other conclusion.