J Med Ethics 35:579-583 doi:10.1136/jme.2008.028175
  • Paper
  • Research ethics

Ethics and methods in surgical trials

  1. C M Ashton1,
  2. N P Wray1,
  3. A F Jarman1,
  4. J M Kolman2,3,
  5. D M Wenner1,3,
  6. B A Brody2,3
  1. 1
    Department of Surgery, The Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas, USA
  2. 2
    Center for Ethics, Medicine and Public Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA
  3. 3
    Department of Philosophy, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr C M Ashton, 6550 Fannin Street, SM 1105, Houston, TX 77030, USA; cashton{at}
  • Received 3 December 2008
  • Revised 13 May 2009
  • Accepted 26 May 2009


This paper focuses on invasive therapeutic procedures, defined as procedures requiring the introduction of hands, instruments, or devices into the body via incisions or punctures of the skin or mucous membranes performed with the intent of changing the natural history of a human disease or condition for the better. Ethical and methodological concerns have been expressed about studies designed to evaluate the effects of invasive therapeutic procedures. Can such studies meet the same standards demanded of those, for example, evaluating pharmaceutical agents? This paper describes a research project aimed at examining the interplay and sometimes apparent conflict between ethical standards for human research and standards for methodological rigor in trials of invasive procedures. The paper discusses how the authors plan to develop a set of consensus standards that, if met, would result in substantial and much-needed improvements in the methodological and ethical quality of such trials.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.