The BMJ Today: Laws on money and sex

kristina_fisterBeing a doctor can sometimes feel glamorous. Soon after graduating from medical school, I found myself on a high floor of a fancy hotel in downtown Chicago, waking up to the sun rising over Lake Michigan, a perfect view through a glass wall. Yes, not a window, a wall. Plush carpets, marble bathroom, you know—the works. It was beautiful, and someone else was paying for it.

It might have been at that editorial congress that I learned: disclosure is panacea. Get as many “free lunches” as you want, from whomever you want, but let people to whom it might matter know about it.

Nearly a decade later, we are publishing a Feature on a new era of efforts to bridle competing interests. Following high profile scandals, Europe and the US are stepping legislation up a notch. Very soon, patients will be able to search dedicated websites and see full information on all the payments and perks, courtesy of pharma industry, received by individual doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. Various other measures are being considered, taking transparency beyond drug companies’ influence.

Another piece of legislation provoked Clarke et al to an Editorial. In the UK, a man was sentenced to over a year in prison for giving his partner genital herpes. This was later reduced to three months, for procedural reasons, but can criminal law be the way forward in controlling infectious diseases? Currently, in trying these cases, the UK relies on an act passed in 1861 that was meant to address physical assault. Is it time for a new law? What should such a law say? And, if criminal offense is at stake, it is vital that patients understand exactly what the risks are of transmitting diseases to others. As is true of anywhere else in medicine, can we be sure we explained well, and that patients understood?

With all these changes, doctors may be tempted to study law more than medicine. Don’t worry if that happens though, we’ve got you covered with these short and sweet Clinical Reviews on HIV and hepatitis C.

Kristina Fišter is The BMJ’s Associate editor.