The exceptional ethics of the investigator-subject relationship

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16 Citations (Scopus)


This article concerns the validity of six canonical rules that institutional review boards use to constrain the behavior of investigators. These rules require investigators to design their studies in a scientifically valid way, not pay their subjects to take risks, minimize risks to their subjects, secure for their subjects access to effective interventions post-trial, not pay their subjects too much and allow their subjects to withdraw from the study unconditionally. Enforcement of these rules is problematic because there are other relationships that seem to be like the investigator-subject relationship in all ethically relevant respects, such as the employer-employee and volunteer organizer-volunteer relationships, to which we would not dream of applying these same rules. Applying these rules in one context but not the others is a violation of ethical consistency I label "exceptionalism." We should conclude that it is time to reexamine the validity of the six rules.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-80
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Medicine and Philosophy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010


  • ethics
  • exceptionalism
  • investigator
  • research
  • rules


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