News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Psychiatrist settles dispute with Toronto University

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 11 May 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1177
  1. David Spurgeon
  1. Quebec

    David Healy, the psychiatrist from the University of Wales who sued the University of Toronto for $C9.4 million (£4.1m; $US6m; €6.6m), claiming violation of academic freedom and defamation as a scientist and physician, has been named visiting professor in the Canadian university's medical faculty. His supporters regard this as a vindication for Dr Healy.

    In September 2000, Dr Healy accepted the post of director of the mood and anxiety disorders programme at the university's affiliated Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which included a university professorship. After delivering a lecture at the Centre in November 2000, during which he voiced criticisms of psychotropic drugs, the offer was abruptly rescinded. Dr Healy and his supporters believed the rescindment was due to his remarks about the drugs, which included Prozac (fluoxetine), manufactured by Eli Lilly, which donated funds to the centre (BMJ 2001;323:591).

    In a letter to the university president, an international group of renowned scientists accused the university of violating academic freedom for fear of losing research funds, saying the decision to rescind Dr Healy's offer “besmirched” the name of the university and “poisoned the reputation” of the centre. It called the affair “an affront to the standards of free speech and academic freedom.” Last October, Dr Healy launched a law suit against the university (BMJ 2001;323:770).

    University and centre officials denied the decision had anything to do with academic freedom. They claimed he had expressed extreme views that were incompatible with scientific evidence and that it would thus be difficult for Dr Healy to have the trust of his colleagues and effectively lead a clinical programme.

    The centre's website carries a statement announcing Dr Healy's appointment as visiting professor and “the settlement of all litigation and other outstanding disputes.”

    The joint statement from Dr Healy, the centre, and the university says: “Although Dr Healy believes that his clinical appointment was rescinded because of his November, 2000, speech at the CAMH [Centre for Addiction and Mental Health], Dr Healy accepts assurances that pharmaceutical companies played no role in either CAMH's decision to rescind his clinical appointment or the University of Toronto's decision to rescind his academic appointment.”

    The statement says that Dr Healy will continue to write and speak on issues concerning pharmaceutical companies, research, and academic freedom, and that the university “underscores its support for the free expression of critical views.”

    Under the terms of his new appointment, Dr Healy will visit the university for periods of a week for the next three years.

    “We see the settlement as a complete vindication for Dr Healy,” said Vic Catano, president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

    “This is a clear acknowledgment of the quality and integrity of Dr Healy's scholarly work. Our hope is that the case also motivates the University of Toronto and all other universities in Canada to more vigorously defend the academic freedom of faculty appointed at university affiliated teaching hospitals and research institutions.”

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