Universality and its Limits: When Research Ethics Can Reflect Local Circumstances

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 30 (3):403-410 (2002)
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Studies in several developing countries for treatmen to prevent HIV-transmission from mother to child generated considerable controversy in 1997. Critics of the studies argued that basic principles of research ethics were violated. According to the critics, researchers subjected women in developing countries to studies that would have been unethical in the United States and that the researchers were therefore engaged in unethical exploitation ofcitizens of the developing countries in which the studies were conducted.While the critics agreed that unethical exploitation had occurred, they differed on the exact nature of the exploitation. Some observers condemned the researchers for employing a double standard — because the researchers were applying a standard of care that would have been unacceptable in their own country. In the view of these critics, researchers should have been comparing the experimental treatment to established therapy rather than to placebo, as would have been required in the United States or other developed countries.



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