Wash U Expert: Drug manufacturers must be held accountable for public safety

Fourteen arrested in connection with 2012 meningitis outbreak

Fourteen people have been arrested in connection with a 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to steroid injections that caused 64 deaths across the United States.


The Dec. 16 arrests, which resulted in two people being charged with 25 acts of second-degree murder, remind us that drug manufacturers must be responsible for their actions, says a noted medical ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis.

“It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for pharmaceutical company officials and employees to face criminal charges,” said Rebecca Dresser, PhD, the Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor of Law at the School of Law and professor of ethics at the School of Medicine.

“This case is a reminder of how much we depend on drug manufacturers to perform their work carefully and responsibly,” Dresser said. “Many people take medications every day, so public vulnerability to harm from improperly made drugs is substantial.”

Dresser is an expert in biomedical ethics. She teaches law and medical students about legal and ethical issues in end-of-life care, biomedical research, genetics, assisted reproduction and related topics. She has written extensively in her field and is the co-author of a casebook on bioethics and law and a book on the ethical treatment of animals.