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Should Researchers Be Upheld To Universal Standards?

1127 words - 5 pages

Offering the rarest of human conditions, third world countries have become the new proverbial Petri dish of biological experimentation. Researchers working in remote locations with impoverished populations would never be able to find in their home countries, but this only serves to highlight the problem that inherently faces all research studies, the protection and rights of research subjects. The Belmont Principles were intended to provide ethical standards that apply universally to all research subject regardless of where they were located. But is it rational to use the same applications in certain countries where an economical imbalance between what is possible and what is not can be the largest hurdle to overcome? These are key issues examined in the New England Journal of Medicine by author Marcia Angell, M.D., and co-authors Harold Varmus, M.D. and David Satcher, M.D. in their respective articles that consider the ethical standards that should prevail in such circumstances. Should researchers be upheld to universal standards? Are the standards more applicable in a “local” sense, where the conditions and economical constraints provide the context for how the principles should be applied?
Ethical violations committed on vulnerable populations first surfaced close to 50 years ago with the discovery of the Tuskegee project. This small rural town in Arkansas, and the population, consisting of black males with syphilis, would become a startling example of research gone wrong. In order to fulfill the researcher's goals, the participants of the study were denied the available treatment, a clear violation of the Belmont Report principle of beneficence. The same problem faces researchers today studying a viable intervention in the vertical transmission of HIV in Africa. There is an effective protocol in industrialized nations, yet researchers chose to use a placebo-controlled study, leaving the control group without treatment of any kind. Researchers are ultimately committing the same mistake as Tuskegee argues Marcia Angell, M.D. in her article “The Ethics of Clinical Research in the Third World”, stating that it is only ethical to use placebo-controlled studies “when there is no known effective treatment” (847). The current treatment consists of lengthy follow-ups with a costly regiment of drugs, but Angell argues that despite the logistics, beneficence still applies, and the available treatment should be the standard to which all others is measured against.
There is also the Belmont's guiding issue of justice, and humans are no less equal when in impoverished locations. Yet, the available treatment is being withheld, on the basis that is not an equal population due only to the context. The justification given by researchers claims that the placebo-group would not be receiving the necessary treatment anyway, so they are simply observing the natural manifestation of the infection in the mother and infant that would occur regardless of the...

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