At Your Own Risk

Some patients join clinical trials out of desperation, others to help medicine advance. Who is to blame if they get sick--or even die?

By the time Cherlynn Mathias was ready to blow the whistle on Dr. Michael McGee two years ago, it had been clear for quite a while that something fishy was going on. For one thing, there were the hokey infomercials touting his experimental vaccine for malignant melanoma, a particularly nasty form of cancer, as if it were a Veg-O-Matic. Thanks to the vaccine, a patient declared onscreen, my cancer is in total remission. Then there was the sales pitch McGee delivered in person. When she and the doctor met with a prospective patient, says Mathias, who worked as his research nurse,...