The physician-researcher conflict of interest, a long-standing and widely recognized ethical challenge of clinical research, has thus far eluded satisfactory solution. The conflict is fairly straightforward. Medical research and medical therapy are distinct pursuits; the former is aimed at producing generalizable knowledge for the benefit of future patients, whereas the latter is aimed at addressing the individualized medical needs of a particular patient. When the physician-researcher combines these pursuits, he or she serves two masters and cannot — no matter how well-intentioned — avoid the risk of compromising the duties owed in one of the professional roles assumed. Because of the necessary rigidity of a research protocol, the more demanding of the two masters is frequently the research.
The problem of the physician-researcher conflict has been evident since the first attempts to regulate human research in the United States. Otto E. Guttentag, a physician at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco, addressed the conflict in a 1953 Science magazine article.