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Clinical research with economically disadvantaged populations


Concerns about exploiting the poor or economically disadvantaged in clinical research are widespread in the bioethics community. For some, any research that involves economically disadvantaged individuals is de facto ethically problematic. The economically disadvantaged are thought of as “venerable” to exploitation, impaired decision making, or both, thus requiring either special protections or complete exclusion from research. A closer examination of the worries about vulnerabilities among the economically disadvantaged reveals that some of these worries are empirically or logically untenable, while others can be better resolved by improved study designs than by blanket exclusion of poorer individuals from research participation. The scientific objective to generate generalisable results and the ethical objective to fairly distribute both the risks and benefits of research oblige researchers not to unnecessarily bar economically disadvantaged subjects from clinical research participation.

  • ED, economically disadvantaged
  • IRB, institutional review board

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    BMJ Publishing Group Ltd and Institute of Medical Ethics

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