Astute students and academics at U of T’s Medical Sciences Building met for coffee and snacks for their regular “brown bag ethics discussion” in the Dean’s Office.

The talk was called “Reflections on research protocols in the oncology clinic.”

“Can you be a physician and a clinical researcher at the same time?” posed Dr. Scott Barry, instructor at the Faculty of Medicine and oncologist at Sunnybrook and Women’s and Toronto Regional Cancer Center.

Barry’s intention was to spark discussion in the small group about how to ask patients whether or not they want to participate in clinical trials.

He gave everyone a crash course in prostate cancer treatment and went on to discuss how doctors talk about clinical trials in the context of this disease.

The discussion moved into issues surrounding conflicts of interest such as where a researcher’s loyalties should fall when being funded by industry and also where money should go when clinical trials are being conducted.

“Being aware of potential conflicts is very important,” said Barry.

He noted the significance of informed consent when telling patients about their options, but also when discussing the potential financial priorities of the researcher.

At Sunnybrook & Women’s, a U of T teaching hospital, a nurse is responsible for preparing an outline of a patient’s options in addition to the physician so that a more unbiased opinion can be put forth. But Barry recognised that bias is inevitably infused into most decision making in these situations. In discussion afterwards, some participants agreed that patients are becoming more aware and more curious about their options for treatment.

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