Beginning Anew: Same Principles, Different Direction for Research Ethics
American Journal of Bioethics, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 44-47, 2005
Posted: 18 Apr 2006
"Rethinking Research Ethics," Rosamond Rhodes offers a wide-ranging critique of the problems emerging from what she characterizes as "research dogmas" underlying current protectionist research ethics policies and practices. Rhodes's critique focuses on two separate but related issues, those stemming from the Nazi concentration camp research experiments and those concerning conceptual aspects of autonomy. Rhodes claims that approaching research ethics from within the context of the Nazi experiments is a mistake that has led to improperly protectionist, paternalistic policies that "promote practices that are unethical and unreasonable." This essay considers some of the conceptual and practical consequences of using the Nazi experiments as the starting point for research ethics, including Rhodes's critique of the widely accepted principles for the ethical conduct of human subject research. We also discuss her "novel proposal" for compulsory "research service" and suggest that it involves a distortion of moral principles similar to those she identifies in the current rubric; rather than resolving the moral and conceptual problems present in the current system, her proposal relies on a mistaken notion of the principle of respect for persons and its relation to autonomy. We reject any solution that rationalizes paternalistic interventions by appealing to notions of autonomy. Instead, we suggest that research programs can innovate and protect by strengthening the role of participant input in research design and practice.
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