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The struggle for unbiased evidence

Researchers expected it would take about three years to enrol about 1,000 women in the two studies. Instead it took seven years . . . That is not so surprising . . . Patients in the clinical trials must sign a consent form spelling out their grim prognosis and stating that there is no evidence that bone marrow transplants are any better than standard therapies. To enter the trial, you have to face these realities, which is never easy. But if the patient has a transplant outside a trial with a control group of patients, known as a randomized trial, enthusiastic doctors may tell her that a transplant could save her life. Although patients have a right to the truth, they understandably are not going to go to doctors who take away hope.

Adapted from Kolata G, Eichenwald K. Health business thrives on unproven treatment, leaving science behind. New York Times Special Report, 2 October 1999.

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