Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 281–293 | Cite as

What Do the Various Principles of Justice Mean Within the Concept of Benefit Sharing?

  • Bege Dauda
  • Yvonne Denier
  • Kris Dierickx
Original Research


The concept of benefit sharing pertains to the act of giving something in return to the participants, communities, and the country that have participated in global health research or bioprospecting activities. One of the key concerns of benefit sharing is the ethical justifications or reasons to support the practice of the concept in global health research and bioprospecting. This article evaluates one of such ethical justifications and its meaning to benefit sharing, namely justice. We conducted a systematic review to map the various principles of justice that are linked to benefit sharing and analysed their meaning to the concept of benefit sharing. Five principles of justice (commutative, distributive, global, procedural, and compensatory) have been shown to be relevant in the nuances of benefit sharing in both global health research and bioprospecting. The review findings indicate that each of these principles of justice provides a different perspective for a different benefit sharing rationale. For example, commutative justice provides a benefit sharing rationale that is focused on fair exchange of benefits between research sponsors and communities. Distributive justice produces a benefit sharing rationale that is focused on improving the health needs of the vulnerable research communities. We have suggested that a good benefit sharing framework particularly in global health research would be more beneficial if it combines all the principles of justice in its formulation. Nonetheless, there is a need for empirical studies to examine the various principles of justice and their nuances in benefit sharing among stakeholders in global health research.


Benefit sharing Justice Post-trial obligations Resource-limited countries Research ethics 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Department of Public Health and Primary CareLeuvenBelgium

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