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Historical and Ethical Reflections on Current Standards for the Conduct of Human Subject Research

Historical and Ethical Reflections on Current Standards for the Conduct of Human Subject Research

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

Presented by the History & Philosophy of Science Section


The History & Philosophy of Science Section of the New York Academy of Sciences holds multiple meetings covering a wide range of topics within the field. The Section's advisory committee works to bring together distinguished lecturers and scholars to promote discussion of their most recent research, or topics of critical current interest on issues related to the history and philosophy of science, technology, medicine, and relevant social and ethical questions. Topics include the history of related disciplines in all historical periods from antiquity to the present, studied through diverse methodologies. The goal of the Section is to keep the Academy, its members, and those who attend its meetings well-informed about current work and the major figures— nationally and internationally—who are making the most significant contributions to the history and philosophy of science.


Historical and Ethical Reflections on Current Standards for the Conduct of Human Subject Research
Rosamond Rhodes
Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Since the end of World War II when scientist, physicians, and the public turned attention to ethical issues in biomedical research with human subjects, informed consent has been the centerpiece of their concern. In this paper I review and criticize the theoretical underpinnings of the traditional commitment to informed consent for research. The problem, as I see it, involves a failure to appreciate the problems of Nazi research practices and a serious confusion of two distinct concepts of autonomy. In place of the traditional account, I offer an alternative perspective on human subject research which provides a different kinds of justification for informed consent. This new perspective suggests that we need to reassess and re-prioritize the ethical issues in human subject research and then redirect our efforts in research oversight.