Scientific Contribution

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 343-349

First online:

Supererogation in clinical research

  • Deborah R. BarnbaumAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Kent State University Email author 


‘Supererogation’ is the notion of going beyond the call of duty. The concept of supererogation has received scrutiny in ethical theory, as well as clinical bioethics. Yet, there has been little attention paid to supererogation in research ethics. Supererogation is examined in this paper from three perspectives: (1) a summary of two analyses of ‘supererogation’ in moral theory, as well as an examination as to whether acts of supererogation exist; (2) a discussion of supererogation in clinical practice, including arguments that both physicians and patients can practice acts of supererogation; (3) a discussion as to why researchers, qua researchers, are not routinely recognized to perform acts of supererogation, while at the same time the very nature of research subject participation involves supererogation. The article concludes by considering three examples of supererogation on the part of researchers, with a plea that researchers’ supererogatory actions be recognized as such.


Ethical theory Physicians Research ethics Research participants Supererogation