Should Patients Be Allowed to Veto Their Participation in Clinical Research?
Journal of Medical Ethics 2004 April; 30(2): 198-203
Patients participating in the shared benefits of publicly funded health care enjoy the benefits of treatments tested on previous patients. Future patients similarly depend on treatments tested on present patients. Since properly designed research assumes that the treatments being studied are-so far as is known at the outset-equivalent in therapeutic value, no one is clinically disadvantaged merely by taking part in research, provided the research involves administering active treatments to all participants. This paper argues that, because no other practical or moral considerations count decisively against so doing, we could and should oblige patients to agree to receive indicated treatment within the terms of any concurrent research protocols. This ensures their treatment will benefit not only themselves but also future patients through contributing to new knowledge. By analogy with the paying of income tax, patients should not be allowed to "veto" their social responsibility to take part in clinical research.
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