The ethics of non-inferiority trials: A consequentialist analysis

Research Ethics 9 (3):109-120 (2013)
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Abstract

Discussions about the merits and shortcomings of non-inferiority trials are becoming increasingly common in the medical community and among regulatory agencies. However, criticisms targeting the ethical standing of non-inferiority trials have often been mistargeted. In this article we review the ethical standing of trials of non-inferiority. In the first part of the article, we outline a consequentialist position according to which clinical trials are best conceived as epistemic tools aimed at fostering the proper ends of medicine. According to this view, clinical trials are means to ends, and thus their moral status depends both on how well they perform as means to reach desired ends and on which ends they are meant to achieve. Building upon this normative framework in the next two sections we analyze the specific ethical issues raised by non-inferiority trials. By making it clear that clinical trials are just epistemic tools – i.e. means to certain ends – it is possible not only to clarify the conceptual debate over a fundamental issue in clinical research, but also to identify which ethically relevant considerations ought to be addressed in setting up a non-inferiority trial

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