‘Seattle Times’ Wins Ruling On Cancer Coverage

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(AP) A federal judge has ruled that The Seattle Times does not have to turn over documents sought by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in its defense against several lawsuits.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that by providing information to relatives of patients who died in a leukemia trial in the 1980s, reporter Duff Wilson and the newspaper had not overstepped the “bounds of journalism,” as argued by Hutchinson.

Lasnik said journalists generally can’t be forced to disclose information gathered while reporting news stories.

Lawyers for the center wanted the paper to supply them with records of all communications between Wilson and families that sued the center. The lawsuits allege the center failed to adequately inform patients of the risks involved in the trial.

Hutchinson lawyer Joseph Hassett declined to comment.

The cancer center is preparing to defend itself against eight lawsuits filed as the result of a leukemia experiment in which 80 of 82 participants died between 1983 and 1985.

Hutchinson officials deny any wrongdoing in the experiment, designed to prevent graft-vs.-host disease.

In a series of five stories published last year, the Times alleged that cancer patients died prematurely in two clinical trials at the Hutchinson center in the 1980s. Unbeknownst to the patients, the center and some of its doctors had a potential financial interest in those experiments, the Times reported.

The doctors running the experiments never told patients that the trials in which they were involved were failing at an alarmingly high rate, the articles said. Nor were patients told that conventional treatments would give them a good chance of survival or at least a longer life.

Hutchinson center officials have challenged the newspaper’s findings and harshly criticized the report. The Times series is believed to be a contender for a Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzers will be announced Monday afternoon.

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