: When may a physician legitimately offer enrollment in a randomized clinical trial (RCT) to her patient? Two answers to this question have had a profound impact on the research ethics literature. Equipoise, as originated by Charles Fried, which we term Fried's equipoise (FE), stipulates that a physician may offer trial enrollment to her patient only when the physician is genuinely uncertain as to the preferred treatment. Clinical equipoise (CE), originated by Benjamin Freedman, requires that there exist a state of (...) honest, professional disagreement in the community of expert practitioners as to the preferred treatment. FE and CE are widely understood as competing concepts. We argue that FE and CE offer separable and, in themselves, incomplete justifications for the conduct of clinical trials. FE articulates conditions under which the fiduciary duties of physician to patient may be upheld in the conduct of research. CE sets out a standard for the social approval of research by institutional review boards. Viewed in this way, FE and CE are not necessarily competing notions, but rather address complementary moral concerns. (shrink)
Although for the last 50 years, ethicists dealing with human experimentation have focused primarily on the need to protect individual research subjects and vulnerable groups, biomedical research, especially in genetics, now requires the establishment of standards for the protection of communities. We have developed such a strategy, based on five steps. (i) Identification of community characteristics relevant to the biomedical research setting, (ii) delineation of a typology of different types of communities using these characteristics, (iii) determination of the range of (...) possible community protections, (iv) creation of connections between particular protections and one or more community characteristics necessary for its implementation, and (v) synthesis of community characteristics and possible protections to define protections appropriate for each type of community. Depending on the particular community, consent and consultation, consultation alone, or no added protections may be required for research. (shrink)
The question "When are research risks reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits?" is at the heart of disputes in the ethics of clinical research. Institutional review boards are often criticized for inconsistent decision-making, a problem that is compounded by a number of contemporary controversies, including the ethics of research involving placebo controls, developing countries, incapable adults and emergency rooms. If this pressing ethical question is to be addressed in a principled way, then a systematic approach to the ethics of risk (...) in research is required. Component analysis provides such a systematic approach. (shrink)
Heated debate surrounds the question whether the relationship between physician-researcher and patient-subject is governed by a duty of care. Miller and Weijer argue that fiduciary law provides a strong legal foundation for this duty, and for articulating the terms of the relationship between physician-researcher and patient-subject.
The issue of the protection of communities in clinical research first arose 10 years ago in studies conducted in technologically developing countries by scientists from technologically developed nations. The question was, which ethical standards ought to apply, those of the Western investigators or local standards?
Franklin G. Miller and colleagues have stimulated renewed interest in research ethics through their work criticizing clinical equipoise. Over three years and some twenty articles, they have also worked to articulate a positive alternative view on norms governing the conduct of clinical research. Shared presuppositions underlie the positive and critical dimensions of Miller and colleagues' work. However, recognizing that constructive contributions to the field ought to enjoy priority, we presently scrutinize the constructive dimension of their work. We argue that it (...) is wanting in several respects. (shrink)
The practice of paying research subjects for participating inclinical trials has yet to receive an adequate moral analysis.Dickert and Grady argue for a wage payment model in whichresearch subjects are paid an hourly wage based on that ofunskilled laborers. If we accept this approach, what follows?Norms for just working conditions emerge from workplacelegislation and political theory. All workers, includingpaid research subjects under Dickert and Grady''s analysis,have a right to at least minimum wage, a standard work week,extra pay for overtime hours, (...) a safe workplace, no faultcompensation for work-related injury, and union organization.If we accept that paid research subjects are wage earners likeany other, then the implications for changes to current practiceare substantial. (shrink)
Pragmatic comparative effectiveness randomized controlled trials evaluate the effectiveness of one interventions under real-world clinical conditions. The results of ceRCTs are often directly generalizable to everyday clinical practice, providing information critical to decision-making by patients, clinicians, and healthcare policymakers. The PRECIS-2 framework identifies nine domains that serve to score a trial on a continuum between very explanatory to very pragmatic. According to the framework, pragmatic trials may have one or more of the following features: there are fewer eligibility criteria for (...) participants, in an... (shrink)
OBJECTIVES: To compare 2005 and 1995 ethics guidelines from journal editors to authors regarding requirements for institutional review board (IRB) approval and conflict-of-interest (COI) disclosure. DESIGN: A descriptive study of the ethics guidelines published in 103 English-language biomedical journals listed in the Abridged Index Medicus in 1995 and 2005. Each journal was reviewed by the principal author and one of four independent reviewers. RESULTS: During the period, the proportion of journals requiring IRB approval increased from 42% (95% CI 32.2% to (...) 51.2%, p<0.001) to 76% (95% CI 66.4% to 83.1%, p<0.001). In 2005, an additional 9% referred to the Declaration of Helsinki or the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors' Uniform requirements for ethical guidelines; 15% (95% CI 8.5% to 22.5%, p<0.01) provided ambiguous or no requirements. The proportion of journals requiring COI disclosure increased from 75% (95% CI 66.6% to 83.3%, p<0.05) to 94% (95% CI 89.4% to 98.6%, p<0.05); 41% had comprehensive requirements, while some addressed only funding source (6%), were vague (10%) or both (14%). Criteria for authorship rose from 40% (95% CI 30.5% to 49.5%, p<0.05) to 72% (95% CI 63.3% to 80.7%, p<0.05). Journals with higher impact factors were more likely to require IRB approval (p<0.01). Journals in anaesthesia and radiology all required IRB approval; requirements in other disciplines varied. CONCLUSIONS: Instructions to authors regarding ethical standards have improved. Some remain incomplete, especially regarding the scope of disclosure of COI. The ethical guidelines presented to authors need further clarification and standardisation. (shrink)
After severe brain injury, one of the key challenges for medical doctors is to determine the patient’s prognosis. Who will do well? Who will not do well? Physicians need to know this, and families need to do this too, to address choices regarding the continuation of life supporting therapies. However, current prognostication methods are insufficient to provide a reliable prognosis. -/- Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) holds considerable promise for improving the accuracy of prognosis in acute brain injury patients. Nonetheless, (...) research on functional MRI in the intensive care unit context is ethically challenging. These studies raise several ethical issues that have not been addressed so far. In this article, Prof. Charles Weijer and his co-workers provide a framework for researchers and ethics committees to design and review these studies in an ethically sound way. (shrink)
When may a physician enroll a patient in clinical research? An adequate answer to this question requires clarification of trust-based obligations of the state and the physician-researcher respectively to the patient-subject. The state relies on the voluntarism of patient-subjects to advance the public interest in science. Accordingly, it is obligated to protect the agent-neutral interests of patient-subjects through promulgating standards that secure these interests. Component analysis is the only comprehensive and systematic specification of regulatory standards for benefit-harm evaluation by research (...) ethics committees (RECs). Clinical equipoise, a standard in component analysis, ensures the treatment arms of a randomised control trial are consistent with competent medical care. It thus serves to protect agent-neutral welfare interests of the patient-subject. But REC review occurs prior to enrolment, highlighting the independent responsibility of the physician-researcher to protect the agent-relative welfare interests of the patient-subject. In a novel interpretation of the duty of care, we argue for a “clinical judgment principle” which requires the physician-researcher to exercise judgment in the interests of the patient-subject taking into account evidence on treatments and the patient-subject‘s circumstances. (shrink)
Minimal risk is a central concept in the ethical analysis of research with children. It is defined as the risks “. . . ordinarily encountered in daily life . . . .” But the question arises: who is the referent for minimal risk? Commentators in the research ethics literature often answer this question by endorsing one of two possible interpretations: the uniform interpretation or the relative interpretation of minimal risk. We argue that describing the debate over minimal risk as a (...) disagreement between the uniform and the relative interpretation impedes progress on the identification of a justifiable referent for minimal risk. There are two main problems with this approach: constructing the debate over minimal risk as a disagreement between a uniform and a relative interpretation misconstrues the main difference between competing interpretations and neither the uniform nor the relative interpretation identifies one unique and consistent group of children as the referent for minimal risk. We conclude that progress on the debate over minimal risk requires that we abandon the uniform and relative interpretations and address the main moral problem at stake: whether healthy children or the subjects of the research should be the referent for minimal risk. (shrink)
Randomized controlled trial trial designs exist on an explanatory-pragmatic spectrum, depending on the degree to which a study aims to address a question of efficacy or effectiveness. As conceptualized by Schwartz and Lellouch in 1967, an explanatory approach to trial design emphasizes hypothesis testing about the mechanisms of action of treatments under ideal conditions, whereas a pragmatic approach emphasizes testing effectiveness of two or more available treatments in real-world conditions. Interest in, and the number of, pragmatic trials has grown substantially (...) in recent years, with increased recognition by funders and stakeholders worldwide of the need for credible evidence to inform clinical decision-making. This increase has been accompanied by the onset of learning healthcare systems, as well as an increasing focus on patient-oriented research. However, pragmatic trials have ethical challenges that have not yet been identified or adequately characterized. The present study aims to explore the views of key stakeholders with respect to ethical issues raised by the design and conduct of pragmatic trials. It is embedded within a large, four-year project that seeks to develop guidance for the ethical design and conduct of pragmatic trials. As a first step, this study will address important gaps in the current empirical literature with respect to identifying a comprehensive range of ethical issues arising from the design and conduct of pragmatic trials. By opening up a broad range of topics for consideration within our parallel ethical analysis, we will extend the current debate, which has largely emphasized issues of consent, to the range of ethical considerations that may flow from specific design choices. Semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, across multiple jurisdictions, identified based on their known experience and/or expertise with pragmatic trials. We expect that the study outputs will be of interest to a wide range of knowledge users including trialists, ethicists, research ethics committees, journal editors, regulators, healthcare policymakers, research funders and patient groups. All publications will adhere to the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications. (shrink)
Patient outcome after serious brain injury is highly variable. Following a period of coma, some patients recover while others progress into a vegetative state (unresponsive wakefulness syndrome) or minimally conscious state. In both cases, assessment is difficult and misdiagnosis may be as high as 43%. Recent advances in neuroimaging suggest a solution. Both functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography have been used to detect residual cognitive function in vegetative and minimally conscious patients. Neuroimaging may improve diagnosis and prognostication. These techniques (...) are beginning to be applied to comatose patients soon after injury. Evidence of preserved cognitive function may predict recovery, and this information would help families and health providers. Complex ethical issues arise due to the vulnerability of patients and families, difficulties interpreting negative results, restriction of communication to “yes” or “no” answers, and cost. We seek to investigate ethical issues in the use of neuroimaging in behaviorally nonresponsive patients who have suffered serious brain injury. The objectives of this research are to: (1) create an approach to capacity assessment using neuroimaging; (2) develop an ethics of welfare framework to guide considerations of quality of life; (3) explore the impact of neuroimaging on families; and, (4) analyze the ethics of the use of neuroimaging in comatose patients. (shrink)
In February 2010, the World Medical Association hosted an international symposium on the ethics of placebo controls in clinical trials (WMA 2010). Despite years of debate, ethicists, clinical trialists, and policy makers remain divided over the ethical acceptability of using placebos in research when a proven, effective treatment is available. The protracted nature of this problem is due, at least in part, to a perceived conflict between the opposing demands placed on clinical research by science and ethics. A good, scientifically (...) valid trial, it is argued, must be “assay sensitive,” and without using a placebo control, there can be no guarantee that it is. In this article, we revisit some of the claims made about .. (shrink)
Purposeful infection of healthy volunteers with a microbial pathogen seems at odds with acceptable ethical standards, but is an important contemporary research avenue used to study infectious diseases and their treatments. Generally termed ‘controlled human infection studies’, this research is particularly useful for fast tracking the development of candidate vaccines and may provide unique insight into disease pathogenesis otherwise unavailable. However, scarce bioethical literature is currently available to assist researchers and research ethics committees in negotiating the distinct issues raised by (...) research involving purposefully infecting healthy volunteers. In this article, we present two separate challenge studies and highlight the ethical issues of human challenge studies as seen through a well-constructed framework. Beyond the same stringent ethical standards seen in other areas of medical research, we conclude that human challenge studies should also include: independent expert reviews, including systematic reviews; a publicly available rationale for the research; implementation of measures to protect the public from spread of infection beyond the research setting; and a new system for compensation for harm. We hope these additions may encourage safer and more ethical research practice and help to safeguard public confidence in this vital research alternative in years to come. (shrink)
As genetic research increasingly focuses on communities, there have been calls for extending research protections to them. We critically examine guidelines developed to protect aboriginal communities and consider their applicability to other communities. These guidelines are based on a model of researcher-community partnership and span the phases of a research project, from protocol development to publication. The complete list of 23 protections may apply to those few non-aboriginal communities, such as the Amish, that are highly cohesive. Although some protections may (...) be applicable to less-cohesive communities, such as Ashkenazi Jews, analysis suggests substantial problems in extending these guidelines in toto beyond the aboriginal communities for which they were developed. (shrink)
PURPOSE: The offer to return research results to participants is increasingly recognized as an ethical obligation, although few researchers routinely return results. We examined the needs and attitudes of parents of children with cancer and of adolescents with cancer to the return of research results. METHODS: Seven experts in research ethics scored content validity on parent and adolescent questionnaires previously developed through focus group and phone interviews. The questionnaires were revised and provided to 30 parents and 10 adolescents in a (...) tertiary care oncology setting. RESULTS: The content validity index for individual questions and the overall questionnaires scored as 0.86 for both questionnaires. All 30 parents and 10 adolescents who agreed to participate returned questionnaires. The majority (>95%) indicated that they had a strong or very strong right to receive results. Letter or e-mail was a satisfactory means to return results described as good or neutral (66% parents, 100% adolescents) but more participants wished face-to-face disclosure of results with negative implications (50% parents, 60% adolescents). Very few wanted results disseminated through a Web site. The majority acknowledged the need for peer-review before disclosure (60% of adolescents and parents) but did not want "to be the last to know." CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest that pediatric oncology patients and parents of children with cancer strongly feel that they have a right to research results, and that they wish to receive these in a timely manner. (shrink)
: In response to the preceding commentary by Jerry Menikoff in this issue of the Journal , the authors argue that Fried's central concern is not that randomized clinical trials (RCTs) are conducted without consent, but rather that various aspects of the design and conduct of RCTs are in tension with physicians' duties of personal care to their patients. Although Fried does argue that the existence of equipoise cannot justify failure to obtain consent from research subjects, informed consent by itself (...) does not supplant ill subjects' rights to personalized judgment and care embodied in Fried's equipoise. (shrink)
Background: Publication of ethically uncertain research occurs despite well-published guidelines set forth in documents such as the Declaration of Helsinki. Such guidelines exist to aide editorial staff in making decisions regarding ethical acceptability of manuscripts submitted for publication, yet examples of ethically suspect and uncertain publication exist. Our objective was to survey journal editors regarding practices and attitudes surrounding such dilemmas. Methods: The Editor-in-chief of each of the 103 English-language journals from the 2005 Abridged Index Medicus list publishing original research (...) were asked to complete a survey sent to them by email between September-December 2007. Results: A response rate of 33% (n = 34) was obtained from the survey. 18% (n = 6) of respondents had published ethically uncertain or suspect research within the last 10 years. 85% (n = 29) of respondents stated they would always reject ethically uncertain articles submitted for publication on ethical grounds alone. 12% (n = 4) of respondents stated they would approach each submission on a case-by-case basis. 3% (n = 1) stated they would be likely to publish such research, but only with accompanying editorial. Only 38% (n = 13) give reviewers explicit instruction to reject submissions on ethical grounds if found wanting. Conclusions: Editorial compliance with the Declaration of Helsinki in rejecting research that is conducted unethically was difficult to ascertain because of a poor response rate despite multiple attempts using different modalities. Of those who did respond, the majority do reject ethically suspect research but few explicitly advise reviewers to do so. In this study editors did not take advantage of the opportunity to describe their support for the rejection of the publication of unethical research. (shrink)
Earlier in the pages of this journal (p 481), Wendler and Miller offered the "net risks test" as an alternative approach to the ethical analysis of benefits and harms in research. They have been vocal critics of the dominant view of benefit-harm analysis in research ethics, which encompasses core concepts of duty of care, clinical equipoise and component analysis. They had been challenged to come up with a viable alternative to component analysis which meets five criteria. The alternative must (1) (...) protect research subjects; (2) allow clinical research to proceed; (3) explain how physicians may offer trial enrolment to their patients; (4) address the challenges posed by research containing a mixture of interventions and (5) define ethical standards according to which the risks and potential benefits of research may be consistently evaluated. This response argues that the net risks test meets none of these criteria and concludes that it is not a viable alternative to component analysis. (shrink)
The existing EELS literature has usefully identified the scope of ethical issues posed by pharmacogenetic and pharmacogenomic research. The time has come for in-depth examination of particular ethical issues. The involvement of racial and ethnic communities in pharmacogenetic and pharmacogenomic research is contentious precisely because it touches upon the science and politics of studying racial and ethnic difference. To date, the ethics literature has not seriously taken account of the fact that such research impinges upon the interests of communities, and (...) that taking such interests seriously requires that we both protect and empower communities in research. We propose a framework that rests upon the recognition that communities are heterogeneous human associations and differing policies are appropriate for differing communities. Community consent and consultation and community consultation alone are neither appropriate nor required for all pharmacogenetic and pharmacogenomic research. Rather, application of these policy protections must take into account particulars of both planned research and the communities involved. (shrink)
Must treatment be provided to subjects who acquire HIV during the course of a prevention study? An analysis of ethical foundation, regulation, and recent argumentation provides no basis for the obligation. We outline an alternative approach to the problem based on moral negotiation.