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‘Who is going to put their life on the line for a dollar? That’s crazy’: community perspectives of financial compensation in clinical research


Background Financial compensation of research participants has been standard practice for centuries, however, there is an ongoing debate among researchers and ethicists regarding the ethical nature of this practice. While these debates develop ethical arguments and theories, they fail to incorporate input from those most affected by financial compensation: potential research participants.

Methods To identify attitudes surrounding clinical research, participants of a long-standing cohort completed a one-time interview. Open-ended questions stimulated a participant-driven discussion surrounding medical research. Following a grounded theory methodology, 58 semistructured interview transcripts were coded, focusing on attitudes surrounding financial compensation of research participants.

Results Of the interviews coded, the majority of participants identified as Black/African American (n=44) and were women (n=40). Five major themes emerged. In support of financial compensation, participants felt that study participants should be compensated for time, effort and risk. However, participants were concerned that compensation may differentially impact low-income populations and entice them to hide potentially harmful side effects. Participants also mentioned that financial compensation may invalidate study results if participants knowingly provide false information to subvert inclusion/exclusion criteria.

Conclusion The emergence of both positive and negative themes reiterates the complicated issue of providing financial compensation for study participation. While compensation as a motivator for research participation raises ethical concerns, participants discussed weighing the benefits with the risks in order to make an informed decision. To avoid paternalistic behaviours, research staff must allow potential research participants to review the available information and make the decision that best reflects their wishes.

  • clinical trials
  • ethics
  • research ethics

Data availability statement

Data are available upon request.

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