From Oversight to Overkill: Inside the Broken System That Blocks Medical Breakthroughs--And How We Can Fix It


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$22.95  $21.34
Rivertowns Books
Publish Date
6.0 X 9.0 X 0.71 inches | 1.03 pounds

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About the Author

Simon Whitney, MD, JD opened his family practice in rural Washington state in 1982. In 1995, his career took a sharp turn when he enlisted at Stanford Law School. He wanted to study and write about medical ethics, and for this a medical degree alone might not be enough.

At Stanford, he earned a degree from the law school, and also did a fellowship at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. In order to understand the place of ethics in the world, he served on the university's Institutional Review Board, which is charged with reviewing proposed research to make sure it does not abuse human subjects.

In 1999, Dr. Whitney accepted a faculty position at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, which he held until 2022. He had dual responsibilities at Baylor-to see patients in the family medicine clinic, and to do original work in medical ethics. As he helped the scientists who were his new colleagues, he discovered the many problems with IRB review, and he began publishing papers proposing reform.

Whitney's view that the IRB system needs a major overhaul was unpopular among ethicists, and he sometimes struggled to get his papers published. But scientists were grateful that someone understood their difficulties. At the end of a talk at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, when Whitney asked if there were any questions. Emil Freireich, a pioneering oncologist who had made breakthrough discoveries in the treatment of childhood cancer, asked simply "How can I help?" Other scientists have been equally enthusiastic.

In 2012, Whitney published an essay pointing out that IRB review had led, unintentionally but predictably, to lopsided enrollment in a study of the use of oxygen in the neonatal intensive care unit, leading to treatment recommendations that would apply less well to disadvantaged children. The article persuaded many scientists, but ethicists reacted with anger (one wrote that Whitney was part of a "recent wave of reactionary attacks" that is "at best ahistorical and at worse blindly hysterical").

Over time, Whitney realized that the system would never be changed by academic debate. As a first step, in 2016 he published BALANCED ETHICS REVIEW (Springer), a manual for IRB members that showed how their oversight could be less harmful to the work of scientists. Now, his new book-FROM OVERSIGHT T OVERKILL-takes the debate over the IRB system's suppression of research into the public arena. It will enable readers with an interest in how science works, and how government action can harm the public interest, to learn the whole story and decide for themselves what should be done next.


"Simon Whitney reveals a scandal that every scientist knows but none has mustered the courage to oppose: lifesaving research in the US is crippled by a mindless, Kafkaesque bureaucracy dedicated not to protecting patients but to covering its derrière and expanding its fiefdom. From Oversight to Overkill would be a whiz-bang book even if it just blew the whistle on this outrage, but it's also as entertaining as any medical bestseller, enlivened with unforgettable stories and vigorous, witty prose."-Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and the author of Enlightenment Now and Rationality

"Making the urgent case that oversight done wrong limits crucial, sometimes life-saving options for patients and doctors, Whitney calls for a new approach to how institutional review operates for medical research involving human subjects in the U.S. . . . a cogent stylist and persuasive constructor of arguments, [he offers] a convincing argument for reform to better serve patients and society."-Publishers Weekly BookLife (Editor's Pick)

"A carefully reasoned and disturbing portrait of potential hazards of excessive regulation."-Kirkus Reviews

"If you're interested in clinical research, read this book! It is not a diatribe against IRBs. It's a call to action to make them more humane. It is highly readable and persuasive."-Rhode Island Medical Journal

"From Oversight to Overkill is quite simply a 'must have' reference for libraries reaching general-interest patrons and health professionals. Ideally, it won't just repose on library shelves, but will be recommended to reader and healthcare discussion groups for its many insights and lead to lively debates among healthcare professionals and users of the American medical system."-Midwest Book Review

"Simon Whitney has studied the workings of IRBs for decades. In From Oversight to Overkill, he offers eye-opening stories and careful analysis showing how this well-intended system has gone astray-an urgent message for health care professionals, scientists, policy makers, and ordinary citizens alike. The book is very even-handed, long overdue-and superb."-John Mueller, Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary

"From Oversight to Overkill should be a must-read for regulators, review boards, and investigators who aim to balance patient safety and autonomy with the need to promote responsible clinical research to improve patient care. The book is authoritative yet readable, and the recommendations provide a basis for much-needed constructive discussions about how best to reform the cumbersome oversight and review processes that can be barriers to modern clinical research."-Thomas R. Martin MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of Washington

"As a pediatrician and senior clinical researcher, I recognize both the value of IRB structures and the way they create disproportionate burdens and failed opportunities. From Oversight to Overkill provides a wealth of examples to illustrate these benefits lost as well as a construct to improve this dysfunction by recognizing the key value of societal benefit."-Karel Allegaert, KU Leuven, Belgium and Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

"From Oversight to Overkill is both informative and quite engaging, making a basic case for IRB reform that is thought-provoking and persuasive. It deserves to be widely read and discussed."-Kim Eagle, Albion Walter Hewlett Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Cardiovascular Center, University of Michigan Health System