Snub to Prozac critic upsets teachers
Faculty group sees academic freedom
at risk in U of T withdrawal of job offer
Monday, April 16, 2001
The Canadian Association of University Teachers says it is disturbed by the
University of Toronto’s decision to revoke the job offer it made to an
internationally recognized psychiatrist after he criticized a drug company.
“It appears that there has been a very serious violation of academic freedom
at the University of Toronto that requires remedy,” James Turk, executive
director of the association, said in a letter to U of T president Robert
The U of T and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, an affiliated
teaching hospital, had been courting Dr. David Healy since July of 1999. He
is an expert in drugs and psychiatry at the University of Wales.
They made him a formal, written offer of a combined faculty and clinical
position in May of 2000, and sent a more detailed letter in August. The U of
T hired a lawyer to help him immigrate.
Then, on Nov. 30, 2000, Dr. Healy gave a lecture at the CAMH in which he
criticized drug companies for avoiding experiments that may show there are
problems with their drugs, and for not publishing unfavourable results. He
said the data show that Prozac, manufactured by Eli Lilly and Co., may cause
suicide in some people.
Eli Lilly is the “lead” donor to the CAMH, according to its Web site, and has
contributed more than $1-million to the centre’s $10-million capital
campaign. It argues Prozac is safe.
Last year, Eli Lilly cancelled its $25,000 (U.S.) annual donation to the
Hastings Center in New York, a think tank that looks at ethical issues, after
it published a series of articles about Prozac, including a critical one by
“There are good grounds to believe that Prozac can trigger suicidality. The
pharmaceutical companies are not investigating, however; one wonders whether
they are receiving legal advice echoing that given to the tobacco companies,
that any investigation of these issues may increase product liability,” Dr.
Eli Lilly says it withdrew funding because the Hastings Center published
“articles which Lilly felt contained information that was biased and
scientifically unfounded, and that may have led to significant misinformation
to readers, patients and the community,” said Laurel Swartz, manager of
corporate communications for Eli Lilly.
A week after Dr. Healy’s speech, Dr. David Goldbloom, physician-in-chief at
the CAMH and a professor at the U of T, rescinded his job offer.
The CAMH says the decision was made on the basis of a number of factors it
can’t make public. Eli Lilly says it played no role.
Mr. Turk has asked for a meeting with the U of T president to discuss what
David Naylor, dean of the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, says
it is not the U of T’s role to launch an inquiry.
The eight hospitals affiliated with the U of T are responsible for their own
human-resources decisions, he said. In the case of Dr. Healy, the CAMH would
have been the primary employer, not the U of T.
Yet it was the U of T vice-provost who sent Dr. Healy a memo confirming his
offer of employment and informing him that a lawyer had been hired to help
While saying that the Dr. Healy affair is strictly in the domain of the CAMH,
Dr. Naylor acknowledges that he did make inquiries about what happened.
“I don’t believe there is any particular conspiracy, conflict of interest or
any malice here. In fact, I am satisfied there is not.”