stories from volunteers

Ethical Guidelines

The goal of clinical research is to develop generalizable knowledge that improves human health or increases understanding of human biology. People who participate in clinical research make it possible to secure that knowledge. The path to finding out if a new drug or treatment is safe or effective, for example, is to test it on patient volunteers. But by placing some people at risk of harm for the good of others, clinical research has the potential to exploit patient volunteers. The purpose of ethical guidelines is both to protect patient volunteers and to preserve the integrity of the science.

The ethical guidelines in place today were primarily a response to past abuses, the most notorious of which in America was an experiment in Tuskegee, Alabama, in which treatment was withheld from 400 African American men with syphilis so that scientists could study the course of the disease. Various ethical guidelines were developed in the 20th century in response to such studies.