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University of Pittsburgh Apologizes to Dr. Bernard Fisher

University of Pittsburgh Apologizes to Dr. Bernard Fisher

PITTSBURGH—Bernard Fisher, MD, Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, has accepted an apology and cash settlement from the University of Pittsburgh, and withdrawn his defamation suit against the University and the federal government.

The suit stemmed from accusations by the University and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) that Dr. Fisher knowingly published false data in his landmark study of breast conservation.

Dr. Fisher Files for Damages

Dr. Fisher filed for damages after the University, at the instigation of the National Cancer Institute, removed him as principal investigator and chairman of the federally funded National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) in 1994. The lawsuit charged that the dismissal came without due process and that the defendants violated Dr. Fisher’s right to free speech by interfering with his right to publish in medical journals.

“I’m really very pleased and satisfied that the litigation is over and that I’m able to get back to doing my research under favorable circumstances,” Dr. Fisher said in an interview with Oncology News International.

Although he will receive a reported $2.75 million in damages, plus $300,000 from the NCI to cover legal expenses, Dr. Fisher made clear that the lawsuit was not about money, which could hardly compensate for the 3½ years lost from his work, but rather about “truth and justice.” The most important point about the settlement, he said, is that it may act as a deterrent to those who would disregard due process and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

“People and institutions may have to be more circumspect when they bring any kind of charges against individuals, particularly in the scientific community,” Dr. Fisher said.

The settlement came just six days before the case was to go before a federal judge. University of Pittsburgh spokesman Ken Service said in a statement that the settlement “represents a good-faith effort” and that “the University has agreed to serve as the distributor of a settlement fund established by various parties.”

In addition to the University and its law firm, Washington, DC-based Hogan & Hartson, the defendants in the suit were the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, NCI, and the Office of Research Integrity (ORI). Earlier this year, the ORI reported that, after a three-year investigation, it had found no evidence of scientific misconduct by Dr. Fisher and his colleagues at the NSABP.

The agreement also removed sanctions that had hindered Dr. Fisher’s ability to apply for research grants and publish in medical journals.

Dr. Fisher, at age 78, has no plans for retirement. As scientific director of the NSABP, he will focus on preparing papers based on data from NSABP trials, he told Oncology News International. “There is much new information that needs to be reported, and the settlement will give me the opportunity to do that,” he said.

In addition to the University of Pittsburgh’s apology (see an excerpt of the statement in the box ), the National Cancer Institute issued a statement citing Dr. Fisher’s many contributions to breast cancer research and treatment, and calling him a “force in the study of breast cancer for the last 40 years.”

The Apology: A Public Statement From the University of Pittsburgh

. . . The University of Pittsburgh wishes to take this opportunity to apologize to Dr. Fisher and express its sincere regret at any harm or public embarrassment that Dr. Fisher sustained which was in any manner related to the activities of the University of Pittsburgh, and/or its employees.

The University and Dr. Fisher wish to affirm that at no time was Dr. Fisher found to have engaged in any scientific or ethical misconduct concerning any of his work.

The University’s acceding to the National Cancer Institute’s decision in the Spring of 1994 to remove Dr. Fisher as Principal Investigator of the NSABP and the subsequent developments in the now settled litigation reaffirms the necessity of the University’s commitment to fully investigate any allegations against faculty members which have the potential to impinge upon their First Amendment rights or the essential rights and freedoms of the academic community.

The University wishes to express its pride in the many accomplishments Dr. Fisher has had while associated with the University’s Department of Surgery and wishes him success as he continues in the position of Distinguished Service Professor and Scientific Director of the NSABP. . . .


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