Although informed consent is important in clinical research, questions persist regarding when it is necessary, what it requires, and how it should be obtained. The standard view in research ethics is that the function of informed consent is to respect individual autonomy. However, consent processes are multidimensional and serve other ethical functions as well. These functions deserve particular attention when barriers to consent exist. We argue that consent serves seven ethically important and conceptually distinct functions. The first four functions pertain (...) principally to individual participants: providing transparency; allowing control and authorization; promoting concordance with participants' values; and protecting and promoting welfare interests. Three other functions are systemic or policy focused: promoting trust; satisfying regulatory requirements; and promoting integrity in research. Reframing consent around these functions can guide approaches to consent that are context sensitive and that maximize achievable goals. (shrink)
Different types of consent are used to obtain human biospecimens for future research. This variation has resulted in confusion regarding what research is permitted, inadvertent constraints on future research, and research proceeding without consent. The National Institutes of Health Clinical Center's Department of Bioethics held a workshop to consider the ethical acceptability of addressing these concerns by using broad consent for future research on stored biospecimens. Multiple bioethics scholars, who have written on these issues, discussed the reasons for consent, the (...) range of consent strategies, and gaps in our understanding, and concluded with a proposal for broad initial consent coupled with oversight and, when feasible, ongoing provision of information to donors. This article describes areas of agreement and areas that need more research and dialogue. Given recent proposed changes to the Common Rule, and new guidance regarding storing and sharing data and samples, this is an important and tim.. (shrink)
Vulnerability is one of the least examined concepts in research ethics. Vulnerability was linked in the Belmont Report to questions of justice in the selection of subjects. Regulations and policy documents regarding the ethical conduct of research have focused on vulnerability in terms of limitations of the capacity to provide informed consent. Other interpretations of vulnerability have emphasized unequal power relationships between politically and economically disadvantaged groups and investigators or sponsors. So many groups are now considered to be vulnerable in (...) the context of research, particularly international research, that the concept has lost force. In addition, classifying groups as vulnerable not only stereotypes them, but also may not reliably protect many individuals from harm. Certain individuals require ongoing protections of the kind already established in law and regulation, but attention must also be focused on characteristics of the research protocol and environment that present ethical challenges. (shrink)
On the traditional view, moral distress arises only in cases where an individual believes she knows the morally right thing to do but fails to perform that action due to various constraints. We seek to motivate a broader understanding of moral distress. We begin by presenting six types of distress that fall outside the bounds of the traditional definition and explaining why they should be recognized as forms of moral distress. We then propose and defend a new and more expansive (...) definition of moral distress and examine how it can enable the development of a taxonomy of moral distress. (shrink)
Purpose/methods: This study investigated the relationship between ethics education and training, and the use and usefulness of ethics resources, confidence in moral decisions, and moral action/activism through a survey of practicing nurses and social workers from four United States (US) census regions. Findings: The sample (n = 1215) was primarily Caucasian (83%), female (85%), well educated (57% with a master's degree). no ethics education at all was reported by 14% of study participants (8% of social workers had no ethics education, (...) versus 23% of nurses), and only 57% of participants had ethics education in their professional educational program. Those with both professional ethics education and in-service or continuing education were more confident in their moral judgments and more likely to use ethics resources and to take moral action. Social workers had more overall education, more ethics education, and higher confidence and moral action scores, and were more likely to use ethics resources than nurses. Conclusion: Ethics education has a significant positive influence on moral confidence, moral action, and use of ethics resources by nurses and social workers. (shrink)
Biomedical and behavioral research may affect strongly held social values and thereby create significant controversy over whether such research should be permitted in the first place. Institutional review boards responsible for protecting the rights and welfare of participants in research are sometimes faced with review of protocols that have significant implications for social policy and the potential for negative social consequences. Although IRB members often raise concerns about potential long-term social implications in protocol review, federal regulations strongly discourage IRBs from (...) considering them in their decisions. Yet IRBs often do consider the social implications of research protocols and sometimes create significant delays in initiating or even prevent such research. The social implications of research are important topics for public scrutiny and professional discussion. This article examines the reasons that the federal regulations preclude IRBs from assessing the social risks of research, and examines alternative approaches that have been used with varying success by national advisory groups to provide such guidance. The article concludes with recommendations for characteristics of a national advisory group that could successfully fulfill this need, including sustainability, independence, diverse and relevant expertise, and public transparency. (shrink)
Some are concerned about the possibility that offering money for research participation can constitute coercion or undue influence capable of distorting the judgment of potential research subjects and compromising the voluntariness of their informed consent. The author recognizes that more often than not there are multiple influences leading to decisions, including decisions about research participation. The concept of undue influence is explored, as well as the question of whether or not there is something uniquely distorting about money as opposed to (...) a chance for treatment or medical care. An amount of money that is not excessive and is calculated on the basis of time or contribution may, rather than constitute an undue inducement, be an indication of respect for the time and contribution that research subjects make. (shrink)
Payment to recruit research subjects is a common practice but raises ethical concerns relating to the potential for coercion or undue influence. We conducted the first national study of IRB members and human subjects protection professionals to explore attitudes as to whether and why payment of research participants constitutes coercion or undue influence. Upon critical evaluation of the cogency of ethical concerns regarding payment, as reflected in our survey results, we found expansive or inconsistent views about coercion and undue influence (...) that may interfere with valuable research. In particular, respondents appear to believe that coercion and undue influence lie on a continuum; by contrast, we argue that they are wholly distinct: whereas undue influence is a cognitive distortion relating to assessment of risks and benefits, coercion is a threat of harm. Because payment is an offer, rather than a threat, payment is never coercive. (shrink)
We argue that charging people to participate in research is likely to undermine the fundamental ethical bases of clinical research, especially the principles of social value, scientific validity, and fair subject selection.
The use of placebo controls in clinical trials remains controversial. Ethical analysis and international ethical guidance permit the use of placebo controls in randomized trials when scientifically indicated in four cases: (1) when there is no proven effective treatment for the condition under study; (2) when withholding treatment poses negligible risks to participants; (3) when there are compelling methodological reasons for using placebo, and withholding treatment does not pose a risk of serious harm to participants; and, more controversially, (4) when (...) there are compelling methodological reasons for using placebo, and the research is intended to develop interventions that can be implemented in the population from which trial participants are drawn, and the trial does not require participants to forgo treatment they would otherwise receive. The concept of methodological reasons is essential to assessing the ethics of placebo controls in these controversial last two cases. This article sets out key considerations relevant to considering whether methodological reasons for a placebo control are compelling. (shrink)
Dr. Henry Beecher, a renowned Harvard Medical School anesthesiologist, sent shock waves through the medical research community and the lay press when he described 22 examples of “unethical or questionably ethical studies” by reputable researchers at major institutions in his now well-known 1966 New England Journal of Medicine article. Beecher concluded this exposé by noting: “The ethical approach to experimentation in man has several components: two are more important than the others, the first being informed consent.... Secondly, there is the (...) more reliable safeguard provided by the presence of an intelligent, informed, conscientious, compassionate, responsible investigator”. Beecher’s... (shrink)
To give valid informed consent to participate in clinical research, potential participants should understand the risks, potential benefits, procedures, and alternatives. Potential participants also should understand that they are being invited to participate in research. Yet it is unclear what potential participants need to understand to satisfy this particular requirement. As a result, it is unclear what additional information investigators should disclose about the research; and it is also unclear when failures of understanding in this respect undermine the validity of (...) potential participants' informed consent. An analysis of individuals' interests suggests that potential participants need to understand three additional facts to understand that they are being invited to participate in research: 1) research contribution: those who enroll in the study will be contributing to a project designed to gather generalizable knowledge to benefit others in the future; 2) research relationship: the investigators will rely on participants' efforts to gather the generalizable knowledge to benefit others; and 3) research impact: the extent to which participating in the study will alter what participants do and what happens to them. (shrink)
In this set of contributions to the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal celebrating the significant work and contributions of LeRoy Walters, we aim to bring new perspectives to topics that Dr. Walters helped to pioneer and continue his tradition of bringing moral insights and arguments to bear on the development of practical public and professional policies. Dr. Walters is well known for his invaluable service as member and chair of the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee at the National Institutes of Health. (...) He also made major contributions to a variety of other committees responsible for the oversight of research and science, and to the development and implementation of influential... (shrink)
Ethical issues related to comparative effectiveness research, or research that compares existing standards of care, have recently received considerable attention. In this paper we focus on how Ethics Review Committees should evaluate the risks of comparative effectiveness research. We discuss what has been a prominent focus in the debate about comparative effectiveness research, namely that it is justified when “nothing is known” about the comparative effectiveness of the available alternatives. We argue that this focus may be misleading. Rather, we should (...) focus on the fact that some experts believe that the evidence points in favor of one intervention, whereas other experts believe that the evidence favors the alternative. We will then introduce a case that illustrates this point, and based on that, discuss how ERCs should deal with such cases of expert disagreement. We argue that ERCs have a duty to assess the range of expert opinions and based on that assessment arrive at a risk judgment about the study under consideration. We also argue that assessment of expert disagreement is important for the assignment of risk level to a clinical trial: what is the basis for expert opinions, how strong is the evidence appealed to by various experts, and how can clinical trial monitoring affect the possible increased risk of clinical trial participation. (shrink)
In response to the increasing need for research ethics expertise in low and middle income countries (LMICs), the NIH's Fogarty International Research Ethics Education and Curriculum Development Program has provided grants for the development of training programs in international research ethics for LMIC professionals since 2000. This collection of papers draws upon the combined expertise of Fogarty grantees, trainees, and other experts to assess the state of research ethics in LMICs, and the lessons learned over 12 years of international research (...) ethics education; to assess future needs; and to chart a way forward to meet those needs. In this introductory paper we briefly sketch the evolution of research ethics as applied to LMIC research, the underpinning and evolution of the Fogarty bioethics program, and summarize key conclusions from the other papers in the collection. (shrink)
BackgroundReports suggest that some health care personnel fear retaliation from seeking ethics consultation. We therefore examined the prevalence and determinants of fear of retaliation and determined whether this fear is associated with diminished likelihood of consulting an ethics committee.MethodsWe surveyed registered nurses (RNs) and social workers (SWs) in four US states to identify ethical problems they encounter. We developed a retaliation index (1–7 point range) with higher scores indicating a higher perceived likelihood of retaliation. Linear regression analysis was performed to (...) identify socio-demographic and job characteristics associated with fear of retaliation. Logistic regression analysis was performed to determine whether fear of retaliation was associated with less likelihood of seeking consultation. Results Our sample (N = 1215) was primarily female (85%) and Caucasian (83%) with a mean age of 46 years and 17 years of practice. Among the sample, 293 (48.7%) RNs and 309 (51.3%) SWs reported access to an ethics consultation service. Amongst those with access, 2.8% (n = 17) personally experienced retaliation, 9.1% (n = 55) observed colleagues experience retaliation, 30.2% (n = 182) reported no experience with retaliation but considered it a realistic fear, and 50.8% (n = 305) did not perceive retaliation to be a problem. In logistic regression modeling, fear of retaliation was not associated with the likelihood (OR = 0.64; 95% CI = 0.22–1.89) or frequency of requesting ethics consultation (OR = 0.81; 95% CI = 0.27–2.38). Conclusion Fear of retaliation from seeking ethics consultation is common among nurses and social workers, nonetheless this fear is not associated with reduced requests for ethics consultation. (shrink)
The objective of this study—a substudy to a phase I bioequivalence study—was to compare the effect of standard and concise consent forms on research volunteers’ comprehension of and satisfaction with consent forms, as well as to assess the effect of select volunteer characteristics, such as financial motivations to participate in research, on their comprehension. A 36-item questionnaire measured volunteers’ comprehension, satisfaction, and motivations for participation. Volunteers were randomized to the standard Pfizer consent form or a concise, easier-to-read form. We approached (...) 139 volunteers to participate, and 138 completed the questionnaire . The cohorts did not differ in sociodemographic characteristics. We found that the average comprehension scores for the standard consent form cohort and the concise consent cohort were about the same, and that satisfaction with the consent form was high in both cohorts. Surprisingly, volunteers with a financial motivation had significantly greater comprehension of the study. (shrink)
The understanding of appropriate ethical protections for participants of biomedical research has not been static. It has evolved over time, with the evolution of biomedical research as well as social values. Since World War II, there have been four major paradigms of research and research oversight operative in the United States. These paradigms incorporate different values and provide different approaches to research oversight and the protection of research participants.
Research participants' views about investigator financial interests were explored. Reactions ranged from concern to acceptance, indifference, and even encouragement. Although most wanted such information, some said it did not matter, was private, or was burdensome, and other factors were more important to research decisions. Very few said it would affect their research decisions, and many assumed that institutions managed potential conflicts of interest. Although disclosure of investigator financial interest information to research participants is often recommended, its usefulness is limited, especially (...) when participation is desired because of illness. (shrink)
Individuals with limited resources are often presumed to be vulnerable in research. Concerns include the possibility of impaired decision making, susceptibility to undue inducement, and risk of exploitation. Although each of these concerns should be considered by investigators and IRBs, none justifies categorical exclusion of individuals with limited resources.
Research ethics consultation is increasingly recognized as a potentially valuable mechanism for addressing the depth and breadth of ethical issues that arise in research related to human health and well-being. However, fundamental questions remain, including: What is “research ethics consultation”? And what is its justification beyond the purposes already served by existing entities? We examine how a research ethics consultation service may differ from or complement the role of an institutional review board by offering a definition of research ethics consultation (...) and by exploring the potential scope of a consultation service in terms of types of clients served, questions addressed, and advice provided at various stages of the research process. We then consider the relationship between research ethics consultation services and IRBs, as well as the issues that may arise between them, including possible conflicts of interest. (shrink)
Controversy persists over the ethics of compensating research participants and providing posttrial benefits to communities in developing countries. Little is known about residents' views on these subjects. In this study, interviews about compensation and posttrial benefits from a hypothetical HIV vaccine trial were conducted in Uganda’s Rakai District. Most respondents said researchers owed the community posttrial benefits and research compensation, but opinions differed as to what these should be. Debates about posttrial benefits and compensation rarely include residents' views like these, (...) but future ones should. (shrink)
Background Respect for autonomy is a key principle in bioethics. However, respecting autonomy in practice is complex because most people define themselves and make decisions influenced by a complex network of social relationships. The extent to which individual autonomy operates for each partner within the context of decision-making within marital or similar relationships is largely unexplored. This paper explores issues related to decision-making by couples for health care and the circumstances under which such a practice should be respected as compatible (...) with autonomous decision-making. Discussion We discuss the concept of autonomy as it applies to persons and to actions, human interdependency and gender roles in decision-making, the dynamics and outcomes of couples’ joint decision-making, and the ethics of couples’ joint decision-making. We believe that the extent to which couples’ joint decision-making might be deemed ethically acceptable will vary depending on the context. Given that in many traditional marriages the woman is the less dominant partner, we consider a spectrum of scenarios of couples’ joint decision-making about a woman’s own health care that move from those that are acceptably autonomous to those that are not consistent with respecting the woman’s autonomous decision-making. To the extent that there is evidence that both members of a couple understand a decision, intend it, and that neither completely controls the other, couples’ joint decision-making should be viewed as consistent with the principle of respect for the woman’s autonomy. At the other end of the spectrum are decisions made by the man without the woman’s input, representing domination of one partner by the other. Conclusions We recommend viewing the dynamics of couples’ joint decision-making as existing on a continuum of degrees of autonomy. This continuum-based perspective implies that couples’ joint decision-making should not be taken at face value but should be assessed against the specific cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds and personal circumstances of the individuals in question. (shrink)
Respect for autonomy is a key principle in bioethics. However, respecting autonomy in practice is complex because most people define themselves and make decisions influenced by a complex network of social relationships. The extent to which individual autonomy operates for each partner within the context of decision-making within marital or similar relationships is largely unexplored. This paper explores issues related to decision-making by couples for health care and the circumstances under which such a practice should be respected as compatible with (...) autonomous decision-making. We discuss the concept of autonomy as it applies to persons and to actions, human interdependency and gender roles in decision-making, the dynamics and outcomes of couples’ joint decision-making, and the ethics of couples’ joint decision-making. We believe that the extent to which couples’ joint decision-making might be deemed ethically acceptable will vary depending on the context. Given that in many traditional marriages the woman is the less dominant partner, we consider a spectrum of scenarios of couples’ joint decision-making about a woman’s own health care that move from those that are acceptably autonomous to those that are not consistent with respecting the woman’s autonomous decision-making. To the extent that there is evidence that both members of a couple understand a decision, intend it, and that neither completely controls the other, couples’ joint decision-making should be viewed as consistent with the principle of respect for the woman’s autonomy. At the other end of the spectrum are decisions made by the man without the woman’s input, representing domination of one partner by the other. We recommend viewing the dynamics of couples’ joint decision-making as existing on a continuum of degrees of autonomy. This continuum-based perspective implies that couples’ joint decision-making should not be taken at face value but should be assessed against the specific cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds and personal circumstances of the individuals in question. (shrink)