It is not uncommon for multiple clinical trials at the same institution to recruit concurrently from the same patient population. When the relevant pool of patients is limited, as it often is, trials essentially compete for participants. There is evidence that such a competition is a predictor of low study accrual, with increased competition tied to increased recruitment shortfalls. But there is no consensus on what steps, if any, institutions should take to approach this issue. In this article, we argue (...) that an institutional policy that prioritises some trials for recruitment ahead of others is ethically permissible and indeed prima facie preferable to alternative means of addressing recruitment competition. We motivate this view by appeal to the ethical importance of minimising the number of studies that begin but do not complete, thereby exposing their participants to unnecessary risks and burdens in the process. We then argue that a policy of prioritisation can be fair to relevant stakeholders, including participants, investigators and funders. Finally, by way of encouraging and helping to frame future debate, we propose some questions that would need to be addressed when identifying substantive ethical criteria for prioritising between studies. (shrink)
Recognizing that offers of payment to research participants can serve various purposes—reimbursement, compensation, and incentive—helps uncover differences between participants that can justify differential payment of participants within the same study. Participants with different study-related expenses will need different amounts of reimbursement to be restored to their pre-participation financial baseline. Differential compensation can be acceptable when some research participants commit more time or assume greater burdens than others, or if inter-site differences affect the value of compensation. Finally, it may be permissible (...) to offer differential incentive payments if necessary to advance a study’s goals. We encourage investigators and Institutional Review Boards to think not only about whether to offer payment, in what amounts, and for what purpose, but also to consider whether differential payment can help promote the scientific and ethical goals of clinical research. (shrink)
The revised Common Rule includes a new option for the conduct of secondary research with identifiable data and biospecimens: regulatory broad consent. Motivated by concerns regarding autonomy and trust in the research enterprise, regulators had initially proposed broad consent in a manner that would have rendered it the exclusive approach to secondary research with all biospecimens, regardless of identifiability. Based on public comments from both researchers and patients concerned that this approach would hinder important medical advances, however, regulators decided to (...) largely preserve the status quo approach to secondary research with biospecimens and data. The Final Rule therefore allows such research to proceed without specific informed consent in a number of circumstances, but it also offers regulatory broad consent as a new, optional pathway for secondary research with identifiable data and biospecimens. In this article, we describe the parameters of regulatory broad consent under the new rule, explain why researchers and research institutions are unlikely to utilize it, outline recommendations for regulatory broad consent issued by the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections, and sketch an empirical research agenda for the sorts of questions about regulatory broad consent that remain to be answered as the research community embarks on Final Rule implementation. (shrink)
Institutional Review Boards have substantial power and authority over research with human subjects, and in turn, their decisions have substantial implications for those subjects, investigators, and the public at large. However, there is little transparency about IRB processes and decisions. This article provides the first comprehensive taxonomy of what transparency means for IRBs — answering the questions “to whom, about what, and by what mechanisms?” It also explains why the status quo of nontransparency is problematic, and presents arguments for greater (...) transparency from the perspective of a variety of stakeholders. IRB transparency will make boards more accountable, improve the quality of their decision-making, facilitate consistency in board decisions, permit empirical study of IRBs, promote research efficiency, and advance trust in the research enterprise, among a variety of other benefits. Regulators should promote IRB transparency, IRBs themselves should commit to sharing as much information as they can within the confines of confidentiality requirements, and investigators can endeavor to take matters into their own hands by sharing IRB correspondence and IRB-approved protocols and consent materials. (shrink)
Since 2011, the research community had waited with bated breath as regulators contemplated for the first time bringing secondary research with nonidentifiable biospecimens under the Common Rule and dramatically tightening the criteria for waiving consent to biospecimen research. After considerable pushback from both researchers and patients and amid rumors of intractable disagreement among Common Rule agencies, the Final Rule published on the last day of President Obama's administration left out these troubling changes, and there was a collective sigh of relief. (...) Relief is appropriate, but celebration premature: researchers have little reason to avail themselves of the new broad consent option offered in the Final Rule, and the question of whether biospecimens ought to be treated as inherently identifiable has merely been postponed. (shrink)
On September 8, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to revise the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, widely known as the “Common Rule.” The NPRM proposes several changes to the current system, including a dramatic shift in the approach to secondary research using biospecimens and data. Under the current rules, it is relatively easy to use biospecimens and data for secondary research. This approach systematically facilitates secondary research with (...) biospecimens and data, maximizing the capacity for substantial public benefit. However, it has been criticized as insufficiently protective of the privacy and autonomy interests of biospecimen and data sources. Thus, the NPRM proposes a more restrictive regime, although more so for biospecimens than data. Both the status quo and the NPRM's proposal are critically flawed. (shrink)
We argue that the universal recommendations against “off-label” pediatric use of approved COVID-19 issued by the FDA, CDC, and AAP are overbroad. Especially for higher-risk children, vaccination can be ethically justified even before FDA authorization or approval – and similar reasoning is relevant for even younger patients. Legal risks can also be managed, although the FDA, CDC, and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should move quickly to provide clarity.
How can we ensure that players in the National Football League receive excellent health care they can trust from providers who are as free from conflicts of interest as realistically possible? NFL players typically receive care from the club's own medical staff. Club doctors are clearly important stakeholders in player health. They diagnose and treat players for a variety of ailments, physical and mental, while making recommendations to the player concerning those ailments. At the same time, club doctors have obligations (...) to the club, namely to inform and advise clubs about the health status of players. While players and clubs share an interest in player health—both of them want players to be healthy so they can play at peak performance—there are several areas where their interests can diverge, and the divergence presents legal and ethical challenges. The current structure forces club doctors to have obligations to two parties—the club and the player—and to make difficult judgments about when one party's interests must yield to another's. None of the three parties involved should prefer this conflicted approach. We propose to resolve the problem of dual loyalty by largely severing the club doctor's ties with the club and refashioning that role into one of singular loyalty to the player-patient. The main idea is to separate the roles of serving the player and serving the club and replace them with two distinct sets of medical professionals: the Players' Medical Staff and the Club Evaluation Doctor. We begin by explaining the broad ethical principles that guide us and that help shape our recommendation. We then provide a description of the role of the club doctor in the current system. After explaining the concern about the current NFL player health care structure, we provide a recommendation for improving this structure. We then discuss how the club medical staff fits into the broader microenvironment affecting player health. (shrink)
In its recent review of the US Public Health Service Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study, conducted in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues identified a number of egregious ethical violations, but failed to adequately address issues associated with the intentional exposure research design in particular. As a result, a common public misconception that the study was wrong because researchers purposefully infected their subjects has been left standing. In fact, human subjects have been (...) exposed to disease pathogens for experimental purposes for centuries, and this study design remains an important scientific tool today. It shares key features with other types of widely accepted research on human subjects and can be conducted ethically, provided certain safeguards are implemented. That these safeguards were not implemented in Guatemala is what made that study wrong, rather than the fact of intentional exposure itself. To preserve public trust in the clinical research enterprise, this conclusion ought to be stated explicitly and emphasised. (shrink)
Law and racism are intertwined, with legal tools bearing the potential to serve as instruments of oppression or equity. This Special Issue explores this dual nature of health law, with attention to policing in the context of mental health, schools, and substance use disorders; industry and the environment in the context of food advertising, tobacco regulation, worker safety, and environmental racism; health care and research in the context of infant mortality, bias in medical applications of AI, and diverse inclusion in (...) research; and anti-racist teaching and practice in the context of building an interprofessional curriculum and medical-legal partnerships. (shrink)
In most U.S. jurisdictions, clinicians providing informal “curbside” consults are protected from medical malpractice liability due to the absence of a doctor-patient relationship. A recent Minnesota Supreme Court case, Warren v. Dinter, offers the opportunity to reassess whether the majority rule is truly serving the best interests of patients.
Ensuring that clinical trials, once launched, successfully complete and generate useful knowledge is an important and indeed ethically imperative goal, given the risks and burdens borne by research participants. Since there are insufficient willing research participants to power all the trials that are currently undertaken,1 addressing underenrolment will require prioritisation decisions that reduce the number of trials competing for participants. While there are multiple levels at which research priority-setting can and does take place, competition between trials often plays out in (...) real time at the institutional or site level, where complex decisions must be made about how to manage overlapping trials in ways that balance different considerations, including the risk of non-completion. We sought to explore what research institutions in particular might ethically do to mitigate the risk that competition between trials will contribute to recruitment shortfalls. Against this backdrop, we appreciate the thoughtful replies to our article and are especially encouraged that all three respondents acknowledge the importance and indeed necessity of setting research priorities in ways that respect the rights and interests of various parties. The key question raised by the commentaries primarily concerns not whether research prioritisation should take place but rather how it is best accomplished. In what follows, we clarify our argument in the original article, and then focus on several points raised in the commentaries regarding the role of institutions in research priority-setting. Our approach is animated by the risk that competition between clinical trials for the same population of participants can be a cause of underenrolment when there are insufficient participants to meet the statistical needs of all open studies. In such situations, one or more of the competing studies will fail to meet recruitment targets, reducing their statistical ability to answer the research question. There are strong ethical reasons to avoid …. (shrink)
Our article “NFL Player Health Care: Addressing Club Doctors’ Conflicts of Interests and Promoting Player Trust” focused on an inherent structural conflict that faces club doctors in the National Football League. The conflict stems from club doctors’ dual role of providing medical care to players and providing strategic advice to clubs. We recommended assigning these roles to different individuals, with the medical staff members who are responsible for providing player care being chosen and subject to review and termination by a (...) committee of medical experts selected equally by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Recognizing that the problem of structural conflict of interest is deeply entrenched and that our recommendation is a significant departure from the status quo, we invited comment from a diverse and highly qualified group of experts. There is considerable common ground among the commentators. All but one agreed with us that, despite the best intentions of upstanding professionals, there is a structural conflict of interest in the club doctors’ relationship with players, and the commentaries were generally supportive of our recommendation for change. There are also meaningful disagreements, however. Some commentators think that the proposal is on the right track but does not go far enough to reduce the structural conflict of interest, and one commentary wholly disagrees with our analysis and recommendations. (shrink)