Today’s New York Times carried a story written by Reed Abelson entitled “Financial Ties Are Cited as Issue in Spine Study.” The story explained that some of the nation’s most prominent spine surgeons hailed as a medical breakthrough a study of nearly 240 patients with lower back pain. The doctors said that Prodisc, an artificial spinal disk, had worked much better than conventional surgery in which patients’ vertebrae were fused.

Not totally surprising to many of us advocates, doctors at about half of the 17 research centers involved in the study stood to profit financially if the Prodisc succeeded, according to confidential information from a patient’s lawsuit settled last year.

It is unclear whether the disk’s maker fulfilled its legal obligation to inform the Food and Drug Administration of the researchers’ financial interests before it used the study’s results to approve Prodisc in August 2006. The companies behind the disks and the surgeons who were willing to comment denied that the researchers’ financial interests had any impact on the research.

In the study results submitted to the F.D.A., an unusually large number of patients were not included, and some of those patients have said they fared poorly. As a result, some patients and doctors critical of the research say the study may have cast the Prodisc in an overly flattering light.

As I read this article, I could not help but bump against the similarities prostate cancer patients experienced pertaining to physicians’ failures to disclose and remove themselves from FDA decisions. I am talking about the recent and on-going controversy over physician conflicts of interest in the Provenge mess.

We are supposed to trust our doctors, but this is becoming harder and harder. Our doctors have all taken the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. It seems that many of our physicians need to take a refresher course on the obligations they accepted when they became doctors. They also need take classes in ethics and while I am on the subject they should also learn to listen to their patients.

For the sake of fairness, not all doctors are guilty. However, too many are and we patients are who suffer. Doctors who are found guilty of this type of disgracefully repugnant behavior should be censored and penalized.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW