Pfizer: Sued in U.S. Courts over Nigerian Experiments

From MSNBC: Pfizer faces NY lawsuits over human medical tests

Nigerian families can sue Pfizer in U.S. courts with claims that the giant drug maker violated international law banning involuntary medical experimentation on humans when it tested an antibiotic to treat meningitis, an appeals court ruled Friday.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned rulings by a lower court judge who had tossed out the lawsuits in litigation that began in 2001.

The lawsuits sought unspecified damages on behalf of children and infants who were part of a 1996 study of the oral antibiotic Trovan. The testing occurred during a meningitis epidemic that killed more than 15,000 Africans.

(Here’s an entry from the Business Ethics Blog back in 2006 that gives some of the back story: Pfizer’s Unapproved Drug Tested on Nigerian Children)

The main reason this court decision is news is that the court is reaffirming that foreigners can sue U.S. companies when those companies seem to have violated international law. If that seems obvious, it’s not: though I think there are good arguments, it’s important to see that you do need good arguments for why a U.S. court should have jurisdiction over something that happened in another country, with its own government and its own courts.

From a research ethics point of view, it’s worth nothing (and criticizing) the fact that — at least as reported by MSNBC — part of Pfizer’s defence seems to be that the ends justified the means. Whether the fact that the trial in question went on under exigent circumstances, during an epidemic, matters to the validity of that defence is an interesting question.

~ by Nancy Walton on January 31, 2009.

One Response to “Pfizer: Sued in U.S. Courts over Nigerian Experiments”

  1. Thanks for posting this update on the Pfizer story. Here’s some more background from Der Spiegel’s English site (from late 2007):,1518,517805,00.htmlParticluarly revealing there are the 6th and 7th paragraphs from Part 2 of Der Spiegel’s coverage, where the journalist notes that the Trovan was being given orally instead of being injected (which was thought to be the most effective way of administering it).

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