J Med Ethics 36:598-603 doi:10.1136/jme.2009.034132
  • Research ethics

The 2008 Declaration of Helsinki: some reflections

  1. Simona Giordano
  1. Correspondence to Dr Simona Giordano, CSEP/iSEI, The University of Manchester, The School of Law, Williamson Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, USA; simona.giordano{at}
  • Received 4 January 2010
  • Accepted 5 January 2010
  • Published Online First 1 September 2010


This paper reflects on some amendments to the Declaration of Helsinki in 2008. It focuses on former paragraphs 5 (now 6) and 19 (now 17). Paragraph 5 suggested that the wellbeing of research participants should take precedence over the interests of science and society. Paragraph 6 now proposes that it should take precedence over all other interests. Paragraph 19, and the new paragraph 17, suggest that research involving the members of a disadvantaged population is only justified if the clinical trial is likely to benefit them. In both cases, the recommendation is that the interests of the research subjects should prevail over the interests of third parties. This paper assesses the plausibility of these statements, and in order to do so, considers debates on the moral duty to participate in biomedical research. It is argued that, even if seen in the context of the Declaration as a whole, the statements contained in these paragraphs risk offering a misleading portrait of science and risk eroding some of the ethical principles that should form the basis of a satisfactory shared life, such as altruism and responsibility for our fellows.


  • Competing interests None.

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

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