Medical Research Has Unwitting Recruits, Survey Finds

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One of every four people taking part in federally funded medical research projects at hospitals around the United States is doing so without his or her knowledge, says a new survey.

The White House-appointed Advisory Committee on Human Radiation asked 1,800 randomly selected patients in waiting rooms at 16 hospitals and clinics whether they were involved in a medical research project. A total of 412 turned out to be research subjects, including 99 who had said they were not and had never been participants.

About one-fifth of the unwitting participants were involved in experiments that posed more than a minimal health risk, and 16 people in that group had even signed consent forms. A handful of respondents mistakenly said that they were participants when they were not.

The survey raises serious questions about current research ethics and the extent to which the rights of participants are respected, some members of the advisory panel said. The panel is weighing recommendations for major changes in the process under which subjects are recruited for and informed about medical experiments. Most of the ethical standards for human experimentation in the United States were established in the 1960s and early '70s and have remained unchanged since.

The advisory panel, appointed last year by President Bill Clinton, has focused most of its attention on the ethics of experiments conducted during the Cold War. The panel will conclude its work in September. Human Research Backed

About 90 percent of respondents to the survey said they favored medical research involving humans. …