Ethics and Clinical Research

  • Henry K. Beecher


Human experimentation since World War II has created some difficult problems with the increasing employment of patients as experimental subjects when it must be apparent that they would not have been available if they had been truly aware of the uses that would be made of them. Evidence is at hand that many of the patients in the examples to follow never had the risk satisfactorily explained to them, and it seems obvious that further hundreds have not known that they were the subjects of an experiment although grave consequences have been suffered as a direct result of experiments described here. There is a belief prevalent in some sophisticated circles that attention to these matters would “block progress.” But, according to Pope Pius XII,1 “. . . science is not the highest value to which all other orders of values . . . should be subordinated.”


Aplastic Anemia Vagal Stimulation Typhoid Fever Rheumatic Fever Massachusetts General Hospital 
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  1. 1.
    Pope Pius XII. Address. Presented at First International Congress on Histopathology of Nervous System, Rome, Italy, September 14, 1952.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    At the Brook Lodge Conference on “Problems and Complexities of Clinical Research” I commented that “what seem to be breaches of ethical conduct in experimentation are by no means rare, but are almost, one fears, universal.” I thought it was obvious that I was by “universal” referring to the fact that examples could easily be found in all categories where research in man takes place to any significant extent. Judging by press comments, that was not obvious; hence, this note.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Platt (Sir Robert), 1st part. Doctor and Patient: Ethics, morals, government. 87 pp. London: Nuffield provincial hospitals trust, 1963. Pp. 62 and 63.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Pappworth, M. H. Personal communication.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Beecher, H. K. Consent in clinical experimentation: Myth and reality. J.A.M.A. 195: 34, 1966.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Reduced here to 22 for reasons of space.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Great Britain, Medical Research Council. Memorandum, 1953.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    As far as principle goes, a parallel can be seen in the recent Mapp decision by the United States Supreme Court. It was stated there that evidence unconstitutionally obtained cannot be used in any judicial decision, no matter how important the evidence is to the ends of justice.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1966

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry K. Beecher

There are no affiliations available

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