Two kinds of rule regulating human subjects research

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Alan Wertheimer argues that before we promulgate some rule regarding the conduct of research on human subjects we ethically ought to consider the consequences of the rule being followed. This ethical requirement has an exception, though, Wertheimer maintains: it doesn't apply to rules that are not motivated by considerations of outcome. I agree that there is an exception to be made to Wertheimer's proposed ethical requirement, but not Wertheimer's exception. The important distinction is not that between rules motivated by considerations of outcome and rules motivated otherwise, but between rules designed to enforce ethics and rules not so designed. Before we promulgate the latter kind of rule, we are ethically required to consider the consequences of doing so. This is not so for the former kind of rule. My exception, unlike Wertheimer's, yields the conclusion that we should promulgate, regardless of the consequences of doing so, a rule requiring that the potential benefit to the subject of participation in a study outweigh the risks. This rule is motivated by considerations of outcome, so it would land on the wrong side of Wertheimer's divide. But it's also designed to enforce ethics, so it lands on the correct side of my divide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-437
JournalJournal of Law and the Biosciences
Issue number2
Early online date17 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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