The Nuremberg Code drafted at the end of the Doctor’s trial in Nuremberg 1947 has been hailed as a landmark document in medical and research ethics. Close examination of this code reveals that it was based on the Guidelines for Human Experimentation of 1931. The resemblance between these documents is uncanny. It is unfortunate that the authors of the Nuremberg Code passed it off as their original work. There is evidence that the defendants at the trial did request that their actions be judged on the basis of the 1931 Guidelines, in force in Germany. The prosecutors, however, ignored the request and tried the defendants for crimes against humanity, and the judges included the Nuremberg Code as a part of the judgment. Six of ten principles in Nuremberg Code are derived from the 1931 Guidelines, and two of four newly inserted principles are open to misinterpretation. There is little doubt that the Code was prepared after studying the Guidelines, but no reference was made to the Guidelines, for reasons that are not known. Using the Guidelines as a base document without giving due credit is plagiarism; as per our understanding of ethics today, this would be considered unethical. The Nuremberg Code has fallen by the wayside; since unlike the Declaration of Helsinki, it is not regularly reviewed and updated. The regular updating of some ethics codes is evidence of the evolving nature of human ethics.
Ethics; guidelines; human subjects; Nuremberg; research
Informed consent is an ethical and legal requirement for research involving human participants. It is the process where a participant is informed about all aspects of the trial, which are important for the participant to make a decision and after studying all aspects of the trial the participant voluntarily confirms his or her willingness to participate in a particular clinical trial and significance of the research for advancement of medical knowledge and social welfare. The concept of informed consent is embedded in the principles of Nuremberg Code, The Declaration of Helsinki and The Belmont Report. Informed consent is an inevitable requirement prior to every research involving human being as subjects for study. Obtaining consent involves informing the subject about his or her rights, the purpose of the study, procedures to be undertaken, potential risks and benefits of participation, expected duration of study, extent of confidentiality of personal identification and demographic data, so that the participation of subjects in the study is entirely voluntary. This article provides an overview of issues in informed consent: The obligations of investigator, sponsor and Institutional Review Board to protect rights and welfare of human research subjects. It discusses about the basic elements of informed consent and the process to be followed while obtaining informed consent. Some of the circumstances under which informed consent can be waived and ethical challenges faced by physicians in obtaining informed consent from subjects are also highlighted in this article.
Human subjects; informed consent; institutional review board
The Nuremberg code defines the general ethical framework of medical research with participant consent as its cornerstone. In cluster randomized trials (CRT), obtaining participant informed consent raises logistic and methodologic concerns. First, with randomization of large clusters such as geographical areas, obtaining individual informed consent may be impossible. Second, participants in randomized clusters cannot avoid certain interventions, which implies that participant informed consent refers only to data collection, not administration of an intervention. Third, complete participant information may be a source of selection bias, which then raises methodological concerns. We assessed whether participant informed consent was required in such trials, which type of consent was required, and whether the trial was at risk of selection bias because of the very nature of participant information.
Methods and Findings
We systematically reviewed all reports of CRT published in MEDLINE in 2008 and surveyed corresponding authors regarding the nature of the informed consent and the process of participant inclusion. We identified 173 reports and obtained an answer from 113 authors (65.3%). In total, 23.7% of the reports lacked information on ethics committee approval or participant consent, 53.1% of authors declared that participant consent was for data collection only and 58.5% that the group allocation was not specified for participants. The process of recruitment (chronology of participant recruitment with regard to cluster randomization) was rarely reported, and we estimated that only 56.6% of the trials were free of potential selection bias.
For CRTs, the reporting of ethics committee approval and participant informed consent is less than optimal. Reports should describe whether participants consented for administration of an intervention and/or data collection. Finally, the process of participant recruitment should be fully described (namely, whether participants were informed of the allocation group before being recruited) for a better appraisal of the risk of selection bias.
Improved quality of care is a policy objective of health care systems around the world. Implementation research is the scientific study of methods to promote the systematic uptake of clinical research findings into routine clinical practice, and hence to reduce inappropriate care. It includes the study of influences on healthcare professionals' behaviour and methods to enable them to use research findings more effectively. Cluster randomized trials represent the optimal design for evaluating the effectiveness of implementation strategies. Various codes of medical ethics, such as the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki inform medical research, but their relevance to cluster randomised trials in implementation research is unclear. This paper discusses the applicability of various ethical codes to obtaining consent in cluster trials in implementation research.
The appropriate application of biomedical codes to implementation research is not obvious. Discussion of the nature and practice of informed consent in implementation research cluster trials must consider the levels at which consent can be sought, and for what purpose it can be sought. The level at which an intervention is delivered can render the idea of patient level consent meaningless. Careful consideration of the ownership of information, and rights of access to and exploitation of data is required. For health care professionals and organizations, there is a balance between clinical freedom and responsibility to participate in research.
While ethical justification for clinical trials relies heavily on individual consent, for implementation research aspects of distributive justice, economics, and political philosophy underlie the debate. Societies may need to trade off decisions on the choice between individualized consent and valid implementation research. We suggest that social sciences codes could usefully inform the consideration of implementation research by members of Research Ethics Committees.
Fifty years after the Nuremberg medical trial there remain many unanswered questions about the role of the German medical profession during the Third Reich. Other than the question of human experimentation, important ethical challenges arising from medicine in Nazi Germany which have continuing relevance were not addressed at Nuremberg. The underlying moral question is that of the exercise of professional power and its impact on vulnerable people seeking medical care. Sensitisation to the obligations of professional power may be achieved by an annual commemoration and lament to the memory of the victims of medical abuse which would serve as a recurring reminder of the physician's vulnerability and fallibility.
Ethics in clinical research focuses largely on identifying and implementing the acceptable conditions for exposure of some individuals to risks and burdens for the benefit of society at large. Ethical guidelines for clinical research were formulated only after discovery of inhumane behaviour with participants during research experiments. The Nuremberg Code was the first international code laying ethical principles for clinical research. With increasing research all over, World Health Organization formulated guidelines in the form of Declaration of Helsinki in 1964. The US laid down its guidelines for ethical principles in the Belmont Report after discovery of the Tuskegee's Syphilis study. The Indian Council of Medical Research has laid down the ‘Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research on Human Subjects’ in the year 2000 which were revised in 2006. It gives twelve general principles to be followed by all biomedical researchers working in the country. The Ethics Committee stands as the bridge between the researcher and the ethical guidelines of the country. The basic responsibility of the Ethics Committee is to ensure an independent, competent and timely review of all ethical aspects of the project proposals received in order to safeguard the dignity, rights, safety and well-being of all actual or potential research participants. A well-documented informed consent process is the hallmark of any ethical research work. Informed consent respects individual's autonomy, to participate or not to participate in research. Concepts of vulnerable populations, therapeutic misconception and post trial access hold special importance in ethical conduct of research, especially in developing countries like India, where most of the research participants are uneducated and economically backward.
Clinical research; ethics; ethics committees; ICMR guidelines; informed consent
Many accounts of informed consent in medical ethics claim that it is valuable because it supports individual autonomy. Unfortunately there are many distinct conceptions of individual autonomy, and their ethical importance varies. A better reason for taking informed consent seriously is that it provides assurance that patients and others are neither deceived nor coerced. Present debates about the relative importance of generic and specific consent (particularly in the use of human tissues for research and in secondary studies) do not address this issue squarely. Consent is a propositional attitude, so intransitive: complete, wholly specific consent is an illusion. Since the point of consent procedures is to limit deception and coercion, they should be designed to give patients and others control over the amount of information they receive and opportunity to rescind consent already given.
Eduard Seidler sets his discussion of the teaching of medical ethics in the Federal Republic of Germany against an historical background. Immediately after the Second World War the freshness of the memory of the 'Nuremberg Medical Trials' influenced the way in which moral dilemmas were treated in Germany. At the present time no systematic instruction in medical ethics is provided in either undergraduate or postgraduate or continuing medical education. As a result of this, an inquiry was set up in 1977/78. Questionnaires were sent out with a view to collecting information on how subjects referring to medical ethics are treated during medical training. The inquiry showed that no special discipline can claim to be the only competent one for medical ethics, but that everyone has something to contribute. Dr Seidler concludes by stating that basic curricula related to the problems of medical ethics would have to be developed and should be carried on continuously within the training programme.
Scope: To discuss the rationale behind informed consent in clinical trials focusing on vulnerable patients from a European and German viewpoint.
Methods: Scientific literature search via PubMed, Medline, Google.
Results: Voluntary informed consent is the cornerstone of policies regulating clinical trials. To enroll a patient into a clinical trial without having obtained written and signed consent is to be considered as a serious issue in the conduct of a clinical trial. Development of ethical guidance for physicians started before Christ Era with the Hippocratic Oath. Main function of consent, as articulated in all guidelines developed for clinical research, is to facilitate an individual’s freedom of choice, respect autonomy, and thus to ensure welfare of the participants in clinical trials. Minors are unable to provide legally binding informed consent, this issue is addressed through a combination of parental permission and minor’s assent. Illiteracy is a critical problem that affects all corners of our earth; it has no boundaries and exists among every race and ethnicity, age group, and economic class. New strategies to improve communication with patients including the use of videotapes or animated cartoon illustrations could be taught. Finally the time with the potential participant seems to be the best way to improve understanding.
Conclusion: Discovery of life saving and life enhancing new treatments requires partnership that is based on good communication and trust between patients and researchers, sponsors, ethics committees, authorities, lawyers and politicians so that vulnerable patients can benefit from the results of well controlled clinical trials.
informed consent; vulnerable patients; minors; illiteracy
In a Liberal Democracy, Policy Decisions regarding ethical controversies, including those in research ethics, should incorporate the opinions of its citizens. Eliciting informed and well-considered ethical opinions can be challenging. The issues may not be widely familiar and they may involve complex scientific, legal, historical, and ethical dimensions. Traditional surveys risk eliciting superficial and uninformed opinions that may be of dubious quality for policy formation. We argue that the theory and practice of deliberative democracy (DD) is especially useful in overcoming such inadequacies. We explain DD theory and practice, discuss the rationale for using DD methods in research ethics, and illustrate in depth the use of a DD method for a long-standing research ethics controversy involving research based on surrogate consent. The potential pitfalls of DD and the means of minimizing them as well as future research directions are also discussed.
deliberative democracy; public opinion; surveys; bioethical issues; dementia; surrogate consent
The ethics of experimentation on human subjects has become the subject of much debate among medical scientists and philosophers. Ethical problems and conflicts of interest become especially serious when research subjects are recruited from the class of patients. Are patients who are ill and suffering in a position to give voluntary and informed consent? Are there inevitable conflicts of interest and moral obligation when a personal physician recruits his own patients for an experiment designed partly to advance scientific knowledge and only partly as therapy for those patients? The views of the eminent American ethicist Hans Jonas on these issues are briefly summarised and criticised, and some moral guidelines are then proposed to regulate experimentation on human subjects.
The European Clinical Trials Directive requires an informed consent from the patient or a proxy in drug trials. Although informed consent is a valuable tool to protect patients' rights in clinical trials, this requirement largely impedes research in critical care settings, and if pursued in this context, it does not provide the patient with adequate protection. Instead of insisting on informed consent, we suggest that the focus should be shifted towards two other ethically relevant elements in human experimentation: risk assessment and selection of research subjects. When reviewing protocols in which a waiver of consent is deemed necessary, the Ethical Review Board should ensure that non-therapeutic risks are minimal, that the research is specifically designed to benefit critically ill patients, and that it cannot be conducted under circumstances where an informed consent can be obtained. If the European Directive is changed accordingly, this permits clinical trials in critical care settings, while adequate protection from risky non-therapeutic procedures is ensured and exploitation of the patient as an easily accessible research subject is prevented.
Hippocratic Oath is a living document for ethical conduct of the physicians around the world. World Medical Association has been amending the oath as per the contemporary times. Although physicians maintain their ethical standards while treating a patient yet many a times social, administrative and ruling powers either use physicians as their tool of oppression or victimize them for conducting duties as per their oath. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study and Human Radiation Experiments in America, Nazi Experiments in Germany and compulsory sterilization program in India were the studies where States used physicians for the advancement of their rationality or belief. Conversely victimization of physicians in Kosovo, Sri Lanka and incarcerating physicians for treating human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome patients in some countries is concerning. The Nuremberg code, the Declaration of Geneva, Belmont Report and Declaration of Helsinki are ethical documents while active involvement of Food and Drug Administration through “common rule” resulted in guidelines like International Conference on Harmonization and Good Clinical Practices. Still unethical studies are found in developing countries. Studies such as experimental anticancer drugs in 24 cancer patients without adequate prior animal testing and informed consent in Kerala, studies at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi resulted in 49 deaths of children and many more suspicious studies are rampant. Reverting back to the fundamentals of the medical profession; teaching medical ethics and enforcement of “medical neutrality” by embarking some grade of “medical immunity” on the basis of the oath is necessary for ethical conduct of physicians.
Ethical documents; hippocratic oath; medical ethics; medical immunity; medical neutrality
Family-based research in genetically isolated populations is an effective approach for identifying loci influencing variation in disease traits. In common with all studies in humans, those in genetically isolated populations need ethical approval; however, existing ethical frameworks may be inadequate to protect participant privacy and confidentiality and to address participants' information needs in such populations. Using the ethical–legal guidelines of the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) as a template, we compared the participant information leaflets and consent forms of studies in five European genetically isolated populations to identify additional information that should be incorporated into information leaflets and consent forms to guarantee satisfactorily informed consent. We highlight the additional information that participants require on the research purpose and the reasons why their population was chosen; on the potential risks and benefits of participation; on the opportunities for benefit sharing; on privacy; on the withdrawal of consent and on the disclosure of genetic data. This research raises some important issues that should be addressed properly and identifies relevant types of information that should be incorporated into information leaflets for this type of study.
informed consent; isolates; participation; EUROSPAN; information leaflets; ethics
Today's researchers are obligated to conduct their studies ethically. However, it often seems a daunting task to become familiar with the important ethical codes required to do so. The purpose of this article is to examine the content of those ethical documents most relevant to the biomedical researcher. Documents examined include the Nuremberg Code, the Declaration of Helsinki, Henry Beecher's landmark paper, the Belmont Report, the U.S. Common Rule, the Guideline for Good Clinical Practice, and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission's report on research protections for the mentally ill.
Beecher; Belmont Report; Common Rule; Declaration of Helsinki; ethics; National Bioethics Advisory Commission; Nuremberg Code
Clinical trials involving children previously considered unethical are now considered essential because of the inherent physiological differences between children and adults. An integral part of research ethics is the informed consent, which for children is obtained by proxy from a consenting parent or guardian. The informed consent process is governed by international ethical codes that are interpreted in accordance with local laws and procedures raising the importance of contextualizing their implementation.
In Zimbabwe the parental informed consent document for children participating in clinical research is modeled along western laws of ethics and requires that the parent or legally authorized representative provide consent on behalf of a minor. This article highlights the experiences and lessons learnt by Zimbabwean researchers in obtaining informed consent from guardians of orphaned children participating in a collaborative HIV clinical trial involving the Medical Research Council, United Kingdom and four centers, three of which are in Uganda. Researchers were faced with a situation where caregivers of orphaned children were not permitted to provide informed consent for trial participation. The situation contrasted with general clinical practice where consent for procedures on orphans is obtained from their caregivers who are not legal guardians.
The challenges faced in obtaining informed consent for orphans in this clinical trial underscores the need for the Zimbabwe ethics committee to develop an ethical and legal framework for pediatric research that is based on international guidelines while taking into account the cultural context. The Medical Research Council of Zimbabwe has since started the process that is expected to involve critical stakeholders namely the community including children, ethicists, the legal fraternity and researchers.
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) pose ethical challenges for investigators and ethics committees. This study describes the views and experiences of CRT researchers with respect to: (1) ethical challenges in CRTs; (2) the ethics review process for CRTs; and (3) the need for comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
Descriptive qualitative analysis of interviews conducted with a purposive sample of 20 experienced CRT researchers.
Informants expressed concern over the potential for bias that may result from requirements to obtain informed consent from research participants in CRTs. Informants suggested that the need for informed consent ought to be related to the type of intervention under study in a CRT. Informants rarely expressed concern regarding risks to research participants in CRTs, other than risks to privacy. Important issues identified in the research ethics literature, including fair subject selection and other justice issues, were not mentioned by informants. The ethics review process has had positive and negative impacts on CRT conduct. Informants stated that variability in ethics review between jurisdictions, and increasingly stringent ethics review in recent years, have hampered their ability to conduct CRTs. Many informants said that comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs would be helpful to researchers and research ethics committees.
Informants identified key ethical challenges in the conduct of CRTs, specifically relating to identifying subjects, seeking informed consent, and the use of gatekeepers. These data have since been used to identify topics for in-depth ethical analysis and to guide the development of comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
Cluster randomized trials; Research ethics; Informed consent; Clinical trials; Bioethics; Knowledge translation; Quality improvement; Implementation research
The importance of pediatric research especially in the ethically proven trials resulted in considerable legislative attempts in association with compiling ethical guidelines. Because of children's vulnerability conducting pediatric research raises different ethical issues; the two most important of which are informed consent and risk-benefit assessment. Differences in religious and socio-cultural context limit implication of ethical standards.
At the aim of finding a solution we critically reviewed guidelines, and literatures as well as Islamic points in addition to comparing different viewpoints in application of ethical standards in pediatric research.
The literature review showed that pediatric research guidelines and authors’ viewpoints have the same basic ethical core, but there are some variations; depend on cultural, religious, and social differences. Furthermore, these standards have some limitations in defining informed consent according to child's age and capacity upon application.
In this regard Islamic approach and definition about growth development and puberty sheds light and clarifies a clearer and more rational address to the issue.
Children; Pediatric Research; Ethics; Islamic Law
Biobanks include biological samples and attached databases. Human biobanks occur in research, technological development and medical activities. Population genomics
is highly dependent on the availability of large biobanks. Ethical issues must be
considered: protecting the rights of those people whose samples or data are in
biobanks (information, autonomy, confidentiality, protection of private life), assuring
the non-commercial use of human body elements and the optimal use of samples
and data. They balance other issues, such as protecting the rights of researchers
and companies, allowing long-term use of biobanks while detailed information on
future uses is not available. At the level of populations, the traditional form of
informed consent is challenged. Other dimensions relate to the rights of a group
as such, in addition to individual rights. Conditions of return of results and/or
benefit to a population need to be defined. With ‘large-scale biobanking’ a marked
trend in genomics, new societal dimensions appear, regarding communication, debate,
regulation, societal control and valorization of such large biobanks. Exploring how
genomics can help health sector biobanks to become more rationally constituted
and exploited is an interesting perspective. For example, evaluating how genomic
approaches can help in optimizing haematopoietic stem cell donor registries using
new markers and high-throughput techniques to increase immunogenetic variability
in such registries is a challenge currently being addressed. Ethical issues in such
contexts are important, as not only individual decisions or projects are concerned,
but also national policies in the international arena and organization of democratic
debate about science, medicine and society.
Obtaining informed consent in psychiatry clinical research involving subjects with diminished mental abilities and impaired consent capacity has been a challenge for researchers, posing many ethical concerns and procedural hurdles due to participants’ cognitive deficits and impaired ability to judge reality. Regulations seem inadequate and provide limited guidance, not sufficient to address all the ethical issues inherent in different situations related to obtaining consent from decisionally impaired persons. Researchers are struggling to find a balance between risk-benefit ratio, research advancement, and autonomy of study subjects. Inspired to improve the consent process in psychiatry clinical research, many studies have been conducted focusing on various informed consent-related ethical concerns, with the aim of developing appropriate strategies and optimizing the informed consent procedure in psychiatry clinical research, overcoming the ethical concerns. This article critically reviews the various ethical issues and consent challenges, their underlying reasons, and investigates the appropriate strategies and practices needed to be adopted while obtaining informed consent from subjects with impaired consent capacity, participating in psychiatry clinical research.
Clinical research; clinical trials; ethics; informed consent; psychiatry
Though the Nuremberg medical trial was a United States military tribunal, British forensic pathologists supplied extensive evidence for the trial. The BMJ had a correspondent at the trial, and he endorsed a utilitarian legitimation of clinical experiments, justifying the medical research carried out under Nazism as of long term scientific benefit despite the human costs. The British supported an international medical commission to evaluate the ethics and scientific quality of German research. Medical opinions differed over whether German medical atrocities should be given publicity or treated in confidence. The BMJ's correspondent warned against medical researchers being taken over by a totalitarian state, and these arguments were used to oppose the NHS and any state control over medical research.
Improving the management of potential organ donors in the ICU could meet an important public health goal by increasing the number and quality of transplantable organs. However, randomized clinical trials (RCTs) are needed to quantify the extent to which specific interventions might enhance organ recovery and outcomes among transplant recipients. Among several barriers to conducting such studies are the absence of guidelines for obtaining informed consent for such studies, and the fact that deceased organ donors are not covered by extant federal regulations governing oversight of research with human subjects. This paper explores the underexamined ethical issues that arise in the context of donor management studies, and provides ethical guidelines and suggested regulatory oversight mechanisms to enable such studies to be conducted ethically. We conclude that both the respect that is traditionally accorded to the prior wishes of the dead and the possibility of post-mortem harm support a role for surrogate consent of donors in such RCTs. Furthermore, although recipients will often be considered human subjects under federal regulations, several ethical arguments support waiving requirements for recipient consent in donor management RCTs. Finally, we suggest that new regulatory mechanisms, perhaps linked to existing regional and national organ donation and transplantation infrastructures, must be established to protect patients in donor management studies while limiting unnecessary barriers to the conduct of this important research.
informed consent; organ donation; transplantation; research ethics
The process of informed consent is an ethical mandate for all clinical trials. The principles of ethics in research involving human beings decrees the conduct of a process where the prospective research subjects should be informed of all aspects of the research study and after complete comprehension of all the features involved, should express willingness to be a part of the study, and the same should be duly documented. The consent should be fully informed and autonomous. However, with subject populations that are mostly medically naïve and for whom the whole concept of clinical research and the umpteen terms and concepts associated with it are alien; the true essence of an “informed” and “autonomous” decision is largely lost. The consent process thus gets reduced to mainly a “narration-followed-by-signature” process. Over the last few years, this gap in principles and practices of ethics and consent has been acknowledged and innovative concepts and attempts are being fostered, to make the informed consent process more “ethical”. The article discusses the loopholes associated with the informed consent process and the innovative concepts to make it more authentic.
Autonomy; clinical trials; decision aids; informed consent; research ethics
Throughout history, medical practitioners have been admonished to do nothing in treating their patients that might result in harming them. It was not until the 20th century that such teaching was codified in specific legislation. Spurred on by the perversity of Nazi doctors during the Holocaust, world leaders produced the Nuremberg Code in 1947 and the Declaration of Helsinki in 1964. Revelations about other egregious acts in the guise of legitimate medical research led to other measures to prevent such mistreatment. Regulations to ensure physician competency and responsibility have mushroomed in the succeeding years. While such measures were coming into being, some of the greatest advances in medicine were being achieved, not least among them those in cardiovascular surgery. Ironically, much of this valuable research would likely not have been approved under regulatory measures now firmly in place. Given the nature of medical research, more often than not a certain degree of risk in all patients entering such trials may be unavoidable. There is always a balance to be maintained between risk and potential benefit.
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are becoming increasingly common in environmental health research. Like all studies involving human subjects, environmental health RCTs raise many different ethical issues, ranging from obtaining informed consent, to minimizing risks, to protecting privacy and confidentiality. One of the most important issues raised by these studies is whether it is ethical to withhold effective environmental health interventions from research subjects in order to satisfy scientific objectives. Although environmental health investigators usually do not have professional obligations to provide medical care to research subjects, they have ethical obligations to avoid exploiting them. Withholding interventions from research subjects can be ethical, provided that it does not lead to exploitation of individuals or groups. To avoid exploiting individuals or groups, investigators should ensure that research subjects and study populations receive a fair share of the benefits of research.