Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 135–149 | Cite as

Debates about Conflict of Interest in Medicine: Deconstructing a Divided Discourse

  • Serena Purdy
  • Miles Little
  • Christopher Mayes
  • Wendy LipworthEmail author
Original Research


The pharmaceutical industry plays an increasingly dominant role in healthcare, raising concerns about “conflicts of interest” (COI) on the part of the medical professionals who interact with the industry. However, there is considerable disagreement over the extent to which COI is a problem and how it should be managed. Participants in debates about COI have become entrenched in their views, which is both unproductive and deeply confusing for the majority of medical professionals trying to work in an increasingly commercialized environment. We used a modified meta-narrative review method to analyse debates about COI in the academic and grey literature. We found two Discourse Models: The Critical Discourse Model sees COI in health and biomedicine as a major problem that both can and should be addressed, while the Defensive Discourse Model argues that current efforts to control COIs are at best unnecessary and at worst harmful. Each model is underpinned by profoundly differing views about how society should be organized—in particular whether market forces should be encouraged or curtailed—and how the dangers associated with market forces should be managed. In order to make any headway, academics and policymakers must recognize that these debates are underpinned by profoundly differing worldviews.


Conflict of interest Pharmaceutical industry Health policy Meta-narrative review Discourse analysis 

Supplementary material

11673_2016_9764_MOESM1_ESM.docx (63 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 62 kb)


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Serena Purdy
    • 1
  • Miles Little
    • 2
  • Christopher Mayes
    • 2
  • Wendy Lipworth
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Health Policy, Management and EvaluationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, Medical Foundation Building (K25)University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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