NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Women And Medical Research

March 21, 2001

Sexual politics has spilled over into debates about government-funded medical research in recent years. For instance, a recent report of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights claimed "women have been excluded from clinical trials for decades." And last June the Harvard Women's Health Watch proclaimed "nearly all drug testing has been done on men."

But the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which stated in 1997 that "women were routinely excluded" from its research, recently retracted this claim. It's about time, says Sally Satel, a medical doctor, because women have been routinely included in clinical trials.

  • For instance, in 1979, 268 of the 293 NIH-funded clinical trials contained female subjects.
  • Food and Drug Administration surveys in 1983 and 1988 found "both sexes had substantial representation in clinical trials."
  • And data from the NIH's Office of Research on Women's Health show 68 percent of subjects in all clinical trials funded in 1998 were women.

Indeed, a recent study by Curt Meinert and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, published in Controlled Clinical Trials, found female subjects outnumbered males at a rate of 13 to 1 across all cancer trials. One reason for the preponderance of women is that breast cancer research has received more money than any other cancer since 1985, the earliest we have good records of disease-specific NIH funding.

Before that, according to Cathy Young in the New Republic, from 1966 to 1986 there were more than 400 breast cancer trials, compared to just 121 trials for prostate cancer.

Satel says the notion that women have been given short shrift in medical research "has been used to lobby for policies and resources that waste money and, worse, unwittingly harm women."

Source: Sally Satel (American Enterprise Institute), "Feminism Is Bad For Women's Health Care," Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2001. Satel is author of "PC, M.D. -- How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine" (Basic Books, 2000).

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