Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

No Wonder Research Ethics Is Confusing. (from the Editor)

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

No Wonder Research Ethics Is Confusing. (from the Editor)

Article excerpt

The lead story in this issue of the Hastings Center Report claims that much of what has been written about the ethics of human subjects research is mistaken. According to Franklin Miller and Howard Brody, much of the literature on research ethics fails to recognize that research on human subjects raises moral issues that fundamentally mark it off from the ethics of the doctor-patient relationship. In fact, they say, the aims of research are so different from the aims of treatment that the ethics of the two practices also differ: it turns out that beneficence does not figure in research in the same way it figures in treatment. The researcher is sometimes permitted to say to a subject, in effect, "Although there's a moderately effective treatment for your condition, I'd like to give you a random chance of receiving an intervention that I'm pretty sure is not effective--a sugar pill." If the patient knowingly agrees to the arrangement, the risks are not excessive, and the protocol is founded on good basic science, then the researcher has done nothing wrong. But the therapist must always offer the best proven therapies.

Miller and Brody are trying to identify the basic values that guide research, and in so doing they're abstracting from many of the details of actual specific cases. In the real world, researchers might genuinely want the best for all of their subjects, and might even believe (mostly mistakenly) that people stand to improve their chances of receiving effective treatment by participating in clinical trials. Researchers might also be drawn toward those trials that they think are likeliest to benefit subjects, and might try to design trials so as to maximize the chances of benefiting subjects. …

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