The Reasons Democracy Invites All Perspectives

The Reasons Democracy Invites All Perspectives, Lynn Webster, MD, The Painful Truth,

According to a Baltimore Sun article, Dr. Mary Lynn McPherson, who teaches in the School of Pharmacy and specializes in hospice and end-of-life care, was removed from an FDA medical advisory panel along with three other doctors. The panel was organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Grants and Funding

Although the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will not officially disclose its reasons for removing Dr. McPherson and the other highly qualified doctors (such as Dr. Greg Terman who serves as president of the American Pain Society) from the panel, the ousting was apparently motivated by a letter that was sent to the panel by Senator Ron Wyden. In it, the senator pointed out that Dr. McPherson received grants and funding for medical residents worth at least $300,000.

Yes, the University of Maryland received funds from Purdue Pharma in Dr. McPherson’s name to provide students with education and training. It is common practice for industry to give unrestricted and specified grants to universities and professional societies to promote education and conduct research.

Furthermore, Dr. McPherson did not personally receive any of the funds, according to Natalie D. Eddington, Dean of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy. In the Baltimore Sun article, Dean Eddington says, “Her expertise as a world-renowned educator and practitioner would have been invaluable in formulating new strategies for dealing with the opioid addiction crisis facing the United States.”

It is worth noting that, according to the National Academies website, some funding for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine comes from industry. Apparently, there is a double standard employed when evaluating its own organization and those who participate on an FDA advisory panel.

Do Associations Create Bias? Not Always

That said, removing Dr. McPherson from an FDA advisory panel is shortsighted. It is part of an ongoing effort to, in effect, punish and silence anyone who is associated with an opioid pharmaceutical company. Some people assume that such associations must create bias and cause conflicts of interest. Perhaps so, but I don’t agree this is always the case. Certainly, such associations do not create any more bias than does the act of intentionally dampening the voices of different perspectives and rejecting the contributions of esteemed researchers.

The National Academies’ removal of a dedicated physician and researcher from an FDA medical advisory panel limits freedom of professional expression. That appears to be a trend. Many individuals (or organizations) that advocate for people in pain are being discredited or silenced. This is causing incalculable harm to people in pain, and the implications are very disturbing.

There is real danger associated with Senator Wyden’s attempt to purge members who have any connection with industry. It’s more than a serious threat to our patients. It is even threatening the democratic process by limiting participation (and the ability to provide input) only to those people who think in a certain way.

Eliminating people who have any association with Pharma is, in essence, stacking the deck. It creates a special interest group that’s empowered to influence policy. The irony is that this attempt to limit bias is creating bias.

That frightens me. Perhaps it will sound hyperbolic, but I am beginning to wonder to what lengths the anti-opioid crowd will go and what (or whom) they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve their goals.

Even worse, it isn’t only the anti-opioid crowd who are working against the interest of pain patients. Payers also are part of the campaign to profit from limiting opioid access. People in pain are a burden to society and too costly for payers to maintain.

I hope Dr. Mary Lynn McPherson and other colleagues who are caught in the maze of accusations and innuendo will resist the barrage of criticisms and speak up for their right to be heard. It should not matter whether a panel member is from Pharma, a payer, or a consumer. Everyone’s views in a democracy must be valued.

Of course, if Congress really wants to sanitize the panel, it will need to remove anyone who has ties to insurance, including Medicare. Therefore, since the FDA and CDC receive money from payers and Pharma, they should be stricken from the panel, too.

Legislators Accept Funding, But Researchers Can’t?

In fact, the government and many of its politicians are funded, in part, by insurance companies and Pharma. So where do we draw the line? Legislators can accept campaign contributions from Pharma, but researchers cannot accept funding from them? That seems hypocritical to me.

Senator Wyden is misguided on this issue. I urge everyone to sign this petition to reinstate Dr. McPherson to the advisory board.

Finally, I urge the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to rethink their position. Today, funding by Pharma might be deemed inappropriate for an adviser to government. But, tomorrow, who else will we prevent from being part of the national discussion about critical issues? Where does the purging of thoughts stop?


Purchase my book The Painful Truth: What Chronic Pain Is Really Like and Why It Matters to Each of Us (available on Amazon) or read a free excerpt here.

the painful truth, lynn webster, md, chronic pain

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Copyright 2016, Lynn Webster, MD


  1. I.Hollis on July 15, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Thank you Dr. Webster for this excellent assessment! What is really concerning , besides the excellent facts you present, is that this committee is charged with giving an update on the 2011 IOM Report: State of Pain in America. This report is the guiding light for pain treatments, issues that pain patients face with bias and difficulty receiving meaningful pain treatments which informed the writing of the newly released National Pain Strategy. It’s the only official document that provides a balanced view on the issues facing those 100 Million Americans living with with pain, those with high-impact pain, and availability of treatments for pain, among many other related issues. So having a balanced committee review this important document is even more important, and the fact that a specialist like Mary McPherson, and the others were thrown out by someone who doesn’t practice medicine is all the more sinister for those with pain issues.
    Thank you for calling for a balanced approach and caring so much about those who are in pain. We need answers and truthfulness! Our lives hang in the balance.

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