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Individual risk and community benefit in international research
  1. Robert C Hughes
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert C Hughes, Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health, Clinical Center, 10 Center Drive, Bldg. 10 room 1C118, Bethesda, MD 20892-1156, USA; hughesrc{at}


It is widely agreed that medical researchers who conduct studies in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are morally required to ensure that their research benefits the broader host community, not only the subjects. The justification for this moral requirement has not been adequately examined. Most attempts to justify this requirement focus on researchers' interaction with the community as a whole, not on their relationship with their subjects. This paper argues that in some cases, research must benefit the broader host community for researchers to treat subjects and prospective subjects ethically. If research presents substantial net risks to subjects, researchers can ethically ask LMIC citizens to participate only if people in LMICs, normally including people in the host community, stand to benefit.

  • Research ethics
  • international affairs
  • distributive justice

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  • Competing interests None.

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