Sunday, 20 January 2008

Z - the whisteblowing scandal

Victoria McDonald of the Channel 4 news has kindly allowed me to reproduce some of her comments on the Dr Z case, which Victoria covered excellently on Channel 4, the news report can be read and viewed here. There is also an excellent summary here, on the Scientific Misconduct blog.

"There are so many appalling aspects to 'Z's case, not least the gagging order which means she cannot speak and we were extremely restricted in the way we could report this case.

When I asked what had happened to the consultant who had sent 'Z's medical information to her employers, I was told by Addenbrooke's that he had had his knuckles wrapped.

This is what the apology read in open court says: "In deciding to place the Claimant on special leave, the First Defendant (Huntingdon PCT now Cambridgeshire) was wholly misled by information provided by a third party. It should not have relied on that information and should not therefore have placed her on special leave. The party who supplied the information has since unreservedly withdrawn the implication and apologised publicly.'

Hmmmm... And 'Z', who according to a statement she handed out after the case, has had her career curtailed. This has, she writes, caused absolute devastation to both my professional and personal life and to my family.'

Is there not someone who can help her back to medicine, help her make up for the five lost years?"

It's a shocking case. The cancer registry element to it also thrown up some very interesting questions, questions that everyone needs to think long and hard about because they have important implications for us all. If the state is given increasing powers to gather information, information which may be used to benefit society, how far should the state be able to go in gathering this information? Can the state simply ignore the individual's rights and freedoms as what it is doing is for the greater good?

I am sure we all have our own ideas about these kind of questions, as our answers define who we are and how we see the world. I would add that we must be pretty careful in giving the state extra powers for these 'ends justifying means kind of problems'. This is because the state is not the most trustworthy of beings, and more and more evidence of the state's slimy nature is revealed from one week to the next. The use of anti-terrorism laws to prevent peaceful protest being one prime example of the state abusing its position of power to suppress fair dissent.

Dr Faustus should have been more careful before he signed away his soul to the Devil, and I think that we should be very very careful before accepting that the state should be able to ignore the rights of individuals in going about its regular business. The state should have to work hard to gain our consent for its schemes, and we will be happy to give our consent when we can see that a scheme is in our best interests; then when we can see that the state is up to something fishy, we can withdraw our consent. In this way the state's powers can be kept in check. However if we lose our ability to consent, then the state's power will snowball and that does not lead to a pleasant outcome for us all.

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