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)
We seek to change the conversation about brain death by highlighting the distinction between brain death as a biological concept versus brain death as a legal status. The fact that brain death does not cohere with any biologically plausible definition of death has been known for decades. Nevertheless, this fact has not threatened the acceptance of brain death as a legal status that permits individuals to be treated as if they are dead. The similarities between “legally dead” and “legally blind” (...) demonstrate how we may legitimately choose bright-line legal definitions that do not cohere with biological reality. Not only does this distinction bring conceptual coherence to the conversation about brain death, but it has practical implications as well. Once brain death is recognized as a social construction not grounded in biological reality, we create the possibility of changing the social construction in ways that may better serve both organ donors and recipients alike. (shrink)
: Bioethicists have failed to understand the pervasively paternalistic character of research ethics. Not only is the overall structure of research review and regulation paternalistic in some sense; even the way informed consent is sought may imply paternalism. Paternalism has limits, however. Getting clear on the paternalism of research ethics may mean some kinds of prohibited research should be reassessed.
The leading ethical position on placebo-controlled clinical trials is that whenever proven effective treatment exists for a given condition, it is unethical to test a new treatment for that condition against placebo. Invoking the principle of clinical equipoise, opponents of placebo-controlled trials in the face of proven effective treatment argue that they (1) violate the therapeutic obligation of physicians to offer optimal medical care and (2) lack both scientific and clinical merit. We contend that both of these arguments are mistaken. (...) Clinical equipoise provides erroneous ethical guidance in the case of placebo-controlled trials, because it ignores the ethically relevant distinction between clinical trials and treatment in the context of clinical medicine and the methodological limitations of active-controlled trials. Placebo controls are ethically justifiable when they are supported by sound methodological considerations and their use does not expose research participants to excessive risks of harm. (shrink)
The established view regarding ‘brain death’ in medicine and medical ethics is that patients determined to be dead by neurological criteria are dead in terms of a biological conception of death, not a philosophical conception of personhood, a social construction or a legal fiction. Although such individuals show apparent signs of being alive, in reality they are dead, though this reality is masked by the intervention of medical technology. In this article, we argue that an appeal to the distinction between (...) appearance and reality fails in defending the view that the ‘brain dead’ are dead. Specifically, this view relies on an inaccurate and overly simplistic account of the role of medical technology in the physiology of a ‘brain dead’ patient. We conclude by offering an explanation of why the conventional view on ‘brain death’, though mistaken, continues to be endorsed in light of its connection to organ transplantation and the dead donor rule. (shrink)
: Medical research is widely thought to have a fundamentally therapeutic orientation, in spite of the fact that clinical research is thought to be ethically distinct from medical care. We need an entirely new conception of clinical research ethics—one that looks to science instead of the doctor-patient relationship.
: The "difference position" holds that clinical research and therapeutic medical practice are sufficiently distinct activities to require different ethical rules and principles. The "similarity position" holds instead that clinical investigators ought to be bound by the same fundamental principles that govern therapeutic medicine—specifically, a duty to provide the optimal therapeutic benefit to each patient or subject. Some defenders of the similarity position defend it because of the overlap between the role of attending physician and the role of investigator in (...) a research trial. This overlap is maximal when the same physician occupies both roles with respect to a particular patient-subject. We address the ethical tensions inherent in that role conflict and argue that the tensions are real but manageable. The difference position provides a sound ethical framework within which to manage those tensions, while the similarity position is unsatisfactory because it seeks to deny the existence of the tensions. (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)
It has been presumed within bioethics that the benefits and risks of treatments can be assessed independently of information disclosure to patients as part of the informed consent process. Research on placebo and nocebo effects indicates that this is not true for symptomatic treatments. The benefits and risks that patients experience from symptomatic treatments can be shaped powerfully by information about these treatments provided by clinicians. In this paper we discuss the implications of placebo and nocebo research for risk–benefit assessment (...) and informed consent. (shrink)
The use of brain imaging technology as a common tool of research has spawned concern and debate over how investigators should respond to incidental fndings discovered in the course of research. In this article, we argue that investigators have an obligation to respond to incidental fndings in view of their entering into a professional relationship with research participants in which they are granted privileged access to private information with potential relevance to participants' health. We discuss the scope and limits of (...) this professional obligation to respond to incidental fndings, bearing in mind that the relationship between investigators and research participants differs fundamentally from the doctor-patient relationship. (shrink)
Pragmatism is a distinctive approach to clinical research ethics that can guide bioethicists and members of institutional review boards (IRBs) as they struggle to balance the competing values of promoting medical research and protecting human subjects participating in it. After defining our understanding of pragmatism in the setting of clinical research ethics, we show how a pragmatic approach can provide guidance not only for the day-to-day functioning of the IRB, but also for evaluation of policy standards, such as the one (...) that addresses acceptable risks for healthy children in clinical research trials. We also show how pragmatic considerations might influence the debate about the use of deception in clinical research. Finally, we show how a pragmatic approach, by regarding the promotion of human research and the protection of human subjects as equally important values, helps to break down the false dichotomy between science and ethics in clinical research. (shrink)
Conventional medical ethics and the law draw a bright line distinguishing the permitted practice of withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from the forbidden practice of active euthanasia by means of a lethal injection. When clinicians justifiably withdraw life-sustaining treatment, they allow patients to die but do not cause, intend, or have moral responsibility for, the patient's death. In contrast, physicians unjustifiably kill patients whenever they intentionally administer a lethal dose of medication. We argue that the differential moral assessment of these two practices (...) is based on a series of moral fictions – motivated false beliefs that erroneously characterize withdrawing life-sustaining treatment in order to bring accepted end-of-life practices in line with the prevailing moral norm that doctors must never kill patients. When these moral fictions are exposed, it becomes apparent that conventional medical ethics relating to end-of-life decisions is radically mistaken. (shrink)
Physicians commonly recommend ?placebo treatments?, which are not believed to have specific efficacy for the patient's condition. Motivations for placebo treatments include complying with patient expectations and promoting a placebo effect. In this article, we focus on two key empirical questions that must be addressed in order to assess the ethical legitimacy of placebo treatments in clinical practice: 1) do placebo treatments have the potential to produce clinically significant benefit? and 2) can placebo treatments be effective in promoting a therapeutic (...) placebo response without the use of deception? We examine evidence from clinical trials and laboratory experiments bearing on these two questions. The conclusion is reached that based on currently available evidence, it is premature to judge whether placebo treatments are ethically justifiable, with the possible exception of acupuncture for pain relief. (shrink)
The view that research with competent adults requires valid consent to be ethical perhaps finds its clearest expression in the Nuremberg Code, whose famous first principle asserts that “the voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” In a similar vein, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.” Yet although some formulations of the consent principle allow no exceptions, others hold (...) that informed consent is not always strictly necessary for ethical research. The U.S. federal regulations known as the “Common Rule,” which govern research with human subjects, lists several conditions for waiving consent. However, neither guidance documents on the ethics of clinical research nor the literature in bioethics contains a general justification of research without consent. The purpose of this paper is to advance a justificatory framework that will explain why research without consent is permissible in paradigmatic cases and that can be useful in analyzing cases about which there is disagreement. We argue that research without consent can be justified on two grounds: if it stands to infringe no right of the participants and obtaining consent is impracticable, or if the gravity of the rights infringement is minor and outweighed by the expected social value of the research and obtaining consent is impracticable. (shrink)
A basic question of medical ethics is whether the norms governing medical practice should be understood as the application of principles and rules of the common morality to medicine or whether some of these norms are internal or proper to medicine. In this article we describe and defend an evolutionary perspective on the internal morality of medicine that is defined in terms of the goals of clinical medicine and a set of duties that constrain medical practice in pursuit of these (...) goals. This perspective is developed by means of a critical examination of the essentialist conception of the internal morality of medicine advocated by Edmund Pellegrino and the critique of internal morality approaches by Robert Veatch and Tom Beauchamp. (shrink)
: This paper presents a method of moral problem solving in clinical practice that is inspired by the philosophy of John Dewey. This method, called "clinical pragmatism," integrates clinical and ethical decision making. Clinical pragmatism focuses on the interpersonal processes of assessment and consensus formation as well as the ethical analysis of relevant moral considerations. The steps in this method are delineated and then illustrated through a detailed case study. The implications of clinical pragmatism for the use of principles in (...) moral problem solving are discussed. (shrink)
Surgical clinical trials have seldom used a "sham" or placebo surgical procedure as a control, owing to ethical concerns. Recently, several ethical commentators have argued that sham surgery is either inherently or presumptively unethical. In this article I contend that these arguments are mistaken and that there are no sound ethical reasons for an absolute prohibition of sham surgery in clinical trials. Reflecting on three cases of sham surgery, especially on the recently reported results of a sham-controlled trial of arthroscopic (...) surgery for arthritis of the knee, I present an ethical analysis that focuses on the methodological rationale for use of sham surgery, risk-benefit assessment, and informed consent. (shrink)
The recent TeGenero phase I trial of a novel monoclonal antibody in healthy volunteers produced a drastic inflammatory reaction in participants receiving the experimental agent. Commentators on the ethics of the research have focused considerable attention on the role of financial considerations: the for-profit status of the biotechnology company and Contract Research Organization responsible respectively for sponsoring and conducting the trial and the amount of monetary compensation to participants. We argue that these financial considerations are largely irrelevant and distort ethical (...) appraisal of this tragic research. Except for administering the antibody to all 6 participants nearly simultaneously, the trial appears to fulfill all of the critical ethical requirements for clinical research?social value, scientific validity, fair subject selection, favorable risk-benefit ratio, independent review, informed consent, and respect for enrolled participants. (shrink)
The doctrine of clinical equipoise is appealing because it appears to permit physicians to maintain their therapeutic obligation to offer optimal medical care to patients while conducting randomized controlled trials (RCTs). The appearance, however, is deceptive. In this article we argue that clinical equipoise is defective and incoherent in multiple ways. First, it conflates the sound methodological principle that RCTs should begin with an honest null hypothesis with the questionable ethical norm that participants in these trials should never be randomized (...) to an intervention known to be inferior to standard treatment. Second, the claim that RCTs preserve the therapeutic obligation of physicians misrepresents the patient-centered orientation of medical care. Third, the appeal to clinical equipoise as a basic principle of risk-benefit assessment for RCTs is incoherent. Finally, the difficulties with clinical equipoise cannot be resolved by viewing it as a presumptive principle subject to exceptions. In the final sections of the article, we elaborate on the non-exploitation framework for the ethics clinical research and indicate issues that warrant further inquiry. (shrink)
In the midst of the recent Ebola outbreak, scientific developments involving infection challenge experiments on nonhuman primates sparked hope that successful treatments and vaccines may soon become available. Yet these studies pose a stark ethical quandary. On the one hand, they represent an important step in developing novel therapies and vaccines for Ebola and the Marburg virus, with the potential to save thousands of human lives and to protect whole communities from devastation; on the other hand, they intentionally expose sophisticated (...) animals to severe suffering and a high risk of death. Other studies that infect NHPs with a lethal disease in order to test interventions that may prove beneficial for humans pose the same ethical difficulty. Some advocates have argued that all research on primates should be phased out, and ethicists have questioned whether a moral justification of primate research is possible. A 2010 European Union directive banned virtually all research on great apes, and 2013 guidelines from the National Institutes of Health, based upon recommendations in an influential 2011 Institute of Medicine report, eliminated most biomedical research with chimpanzees in the United States. But studies involving other NHPs face no comparable restrictions. Should research on NHPs other than great apes be subject to tighter restrictions than it currently is? In this article, we explore this general question in the context of one particular type of biomedical research: infection challenge studies. We advocate a presumptive prohibition on infection challenge experiments in NHPs, but we also argue that exceptions to this prohibition are permissible, subject to strict substantive and procedural safeguards, when necessary to avert substantial loss of human life or severe morbidity for a substantial number of people. (shrink)
Traditionally, biomedical research has been devoted to improvement in the understanding and treatment or prevention of disease. Building on the knowledge generated by the long history of disease-oriented research, the next few decades will witness an explosion of biomedical enhancements to make people faster, stronger, smarter, less forgetful, happier, prettier, and live longer (Turner et al. 2003; Vastag 2004; Rose 2002). As with other biomedical interventions, research to assess the safety and efficacy of these enhancements in humans should be conducted (...) before their introduction into clinical practice.1 However, various concerns regarding the ethics of enhancement research could be raised. Those who .. (shrink)
Some ethical issues facing contemporary medicine cannot be fully understood without addressing medicine's internal morality. Medicine as a profession is characterized by certain moral goals and morally acceptable means for achieving those goals. The list of appropriate goals and means allows some medical actions to be classified as clear violations of the internal morality, and others as borderline or controversial cases. Replies are available for common objections, including the superfluity of internal morality for ethical analysis, the argument that internal morality (...) is merely an apology for medicine's traditional power and authority, and the claim that there is no single, "core" internal morality. The value of addressing the internal morality of medicine may be illustrated by a detailed investigation of ethical issues posed by managed care. Managed care poses some fundamental challenges for medicine's internal morality, but also calls for thoughtful reflection and reconsideration of some traditionally held moral views on patient fidelity in particular. (shrink)
Ethical concerns have been raised about the quality of informed consent by participants in phase 1 oncology trials. Interview surveys indicate that substantial proportions of trial participants do not understand the purpose of these trials—evaluating toxicity and dosing for subsequent efficacy studies—and overestimate the prospect of therapeutic benefit that they offer. In this article we argue that although these data suggest the desirability of enhancing the process of information disclosure and assessment of comprehension of the implications of study participation, they (...) do not necessarily invalidate consent by phase 1 trial participants. (shrink)
This book challenges fundamental doctrines of established medical ethics. It is argued that the routine practice of stopping life support technology causes the death of patients and that donors of vital organs (hearts, liver, lungs, and both kidneys) are not really dead at the time that their organs are removed for life-saving transplantation. Although these practices are ethically legitimate, they are not compatible with traditional medical ethics: they conflict with the norms that doctors must not intentionally cause the death of (...) their patients and that vital organs can be obtained only from dead donors. The aim of this book is to undertake an ethical examination that aims to honestly face the reality of medical practices at the end of life. This involves exposing the misconception that stopping life support merely allows patients to die from their medical conditions, that there is an ethical bright line separating withdrawal of life support from active euthanasia, and that determination of death of hospitalized patients prior to vital organ donation is consistent with the established biological conception of death. A novel ethical justification is required for procuring vital organs from still-living donors. It is contended that in the context of plans to withdraw life support, donors of vital organs are not harmed or wronged by organ procurement prior to death, provided that valid consent is obtained for stopping treatment and organ donation. In view of serious practical difficulties in facing the truth regarding organ donation, an alternative pragmatic account is developed for justifying current practices that relies on the concept of transparent legal fictions. In sum, it is the thesis of this book that to preserve the legitimacy of end-of-life practices, we need to reconstruct medical ethics. (shrink)
Observational research involving access to personally identifiable data in medical records has often been conducted without informed consent, owing to practical barriers to soliciting consent and concerns about selection bias. Nevertheless, medical records research without informed consent appears to conflict with basic ethical norms relating to clinical research and personal privacy. This article analyzes the scope of these norms and provides an ethical justification for research using personally identifiable medical information without consent.
In a recent article in this Journal, Shlomo Cohen and Haim Shapiro introduce the concept of “comparable placebo treatments” —placebo treatments with biological effects similar to the drugs they replace—and argue that doctors are not being deceptive when they prescribe or administer CPTs without revealing that they are placebos. We critique two of Cohen and Shapiro’s primary arguments. First, Cohen and Shapiro argue that offering undisclosed placebos is not lying to the patient, but rather is making a self-fulfilling prophecy—telling a (...) “lie” that, ideally, will become true. We argue that offering undisclosed placebos is not a “lie” but is a straightforward case of deceptively misleading the patient. Second, Cohen and Shapiro argue that offering undisclosed CPTs is not equivocation. We argue that it typically is equivocation or deception of another sort. If justifiable, undisclosed placebo use will have to be justified as a practice that is deceptive in most instances. (shrink)
Drawing the line on physician assistance in physician-assisted death continues to be a contentious issue in many legal jurisdictions across the USA, Canada and Europe. PAD is a medical practice that occurs when physicians either prescribe or administer lethal medication to their patients. As more legal jurisdictions establish PAD for at least some class of patients, the question of the proper scope of this practice has become pressing. This paper presents an argument for restricting PAD to the terminally ill that (...) can be accepted by defenders as well as critics of PAD for the terminally ill. The argument appeals to fairness-based paternalism and the social meaning of medical practice. These two considerations interact in various ways, as the paper explains. The right way to think about the social meaning of medical practice bears on fair paternalism as it relates to PAD and vice versa. The paper contends that these considerations have substantial force when directed against proposals to extend PAD to non-terminally ill patients, but considerably less force when directed against PAD for the terminally ill. The paper pays special attention to the case of non-terminally ill patients who suffer from treatment-resistant depression, as these patients present a potentially strong case for extending PAD beyond the terminally ill. (shrink)
Cosmetic surgery is a fast-growing medical practice. In 1997 surgeons in the United States performed the four most common cosmetic procedures443,728 times, an increase of 150% over the comparable total for 1992. Estimated total expenditures for cosmetic surgery range from $1 to $2 billion. As managed care cuts into physicians' income and autonomy, cosmetic surgery, which is not covered by health insurance, offers a financially attractive medical specialty.
: This response to Lynn Jansen's critique of clinical pragmatism concentrates on two themes: (1) contrasting approaches to moral epistemology and (2) the connection between theory and practice in clinical ethics. Particular attention is paid to the status of principles and the role of consensus, with some closing speculations on how Dewey might view the current state of bioethics.
Deception is a useful methodological device for studying attitudes and behavior, but deceptive studies fail to fulfill the informed consent requirements in the U.S. federal regulations. This means that before they can be approved by Institutional Review Boards, they must satisfy the four regulatory conditions for a waiver or alteration of these requirements. To illustrate our interpretation, we apply the conditions to a recent study that used deception to show that subjects judged the same wine as more enjoyable when they (...) believed it had a higher price. (shrink)
: Recent controversial decisions to terminate several large clinical trials have called attention to the need for developing a sound ethical framework to determine when trials should be stopped in light of emerging efficacy data. Currently, the fundamental rationale for stopping trials early is based on the principle that equipoise has been disturbed. We present an analysis of the ethical and practical problems with the "equipoise disturbed" position and describe an alternative ethical framework based on the principle of nonexploitation. This (...) framework acknowledges the need for balancing the dual ethical obligations of clinical research, the protection of human subjects and the generation of new medical knowledge. Based on this framework, we put forward a proposal to make early stopping guidelines more stringent under specified conditions. The temporary withholding of apparent benefits in certain circumstances is justified by achieving a fair contract with the research participants, one that protects them from undue harm and exploitation while reducing the many uncertainties surrounding new investigational treatments that arise when trials are stopped prematurely. (shrink)