This paper highlights a feature common to many ethical guidelines—namely, the idea that the interests of the individual shall always prevail over the interests of science and society. The paper presents how some major ethical guidelines treat the balancing of research interests against those of research subjects and spells out the difficulties in interpreting the principle of the primacy of the individual in a way that can be action-guiding. It suggests various alternative interpretations of the primacy of the individual and argues that they do not hold. Finally, the implications of this analysis for ethical guidelines are discussed.
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Both authors are researchers at the Centre for Bioethics at Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University.
Funding: Financial support for this work from the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation is gratefully acknowledged.
Competing interests: None.