Tissue Issue

Dec 19, 2006 at 4:35 pm

Dr. William J. Catalona

Earlier this month Missouri's Eighth District Circuit Court heard prostate surgeon William J. Catalona's appeal against his former employer, Washington University . As described by Bruce Rushton in his November 2003 feature, "Gland of Opportunity," Catalona built up a repository of blood and tissue samples from 10,000 cancer patients and their kin during his 26 years at the university. The rare and valuable collection could eventually lead to a cure for prostate cancer.

Shortly before leaving Wash. U. in 2003 for Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine , Catalona collected signatures from 6,000 of the donors, who said they wanted their tissue to remain under his control. Shortly thereafter, Wash. U. sued to keep the material in its possession. Catalona countersued, with his lawyers claiming that Wash. U.'s intentions were financially motivated.

In April 2006, a federal judge ruled in favor of Wash. U. The tissue remains stored at minus 70 degrees in Wash. U. freezers.

On Friday novelist and former physician Michael Crichton came down on Catalona's side of the argument in an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

His comments, in part:

"America's university hospitals and major medical centers still command respect. But the perception that they are businesses like any other is growing stronger every day. Except, they're not — they're nonprofits, exempt from most of the rules and disclosures that are required of American businesses. In short, caveat patiens: keep copies of everything you sign, bring a lawyer to every medical appointment, and always, always watch your back."

-Ben Westhoff