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Vulnerability in Research Ethics: a way forward


Lange, MM and Rogers, W and Dodds, S, Vulnerability in Research Ethics: a way forward, Bioethics, 27, (6) pp. 333-340. ISSN 0269-9702 (2013) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

DOI: doi:10.1111/bioe.12032


Several foundational documents of bioethics mention the special obligation researchers have to vulnerable research participants. However, the treatment of vulnerability offered by these documents often relies on enumeration of vulnerable groups rather than an analysis of the features that make such groups vulnerable. Recent attempts in the scholarly literature to lend philosophical weight to the concept of vulnerability are offered by Luna and Hurst. Luna suggests that vulnerability is irreducibly contextual and that Institutional Review Boards (Research Ethics Committees) can only identify vulnerable participants by carefully examining the details of the proposed research. Hurst, in contrast, defines the vulnerable as those especially at risk of incurring the wrongs to which all research ethics participants are exposed. We offer a more substantive conception of vulnerability than Luna but one that gives rise to a different rubric of responsibilities from Hurstís. While we understand vulnerability to be an ontological condition of human existence, in the context of research ethics, we take the vulnerable to be research subjects who are especially prone to harm or exploitation. Our analysis rests on developing a typology of sources of vulnerability and showing how distinct sources generate distinct obligations on the part of the researcher. Our account emphasizes that the researcherís first obligation is not to make the research participant even more vulnerable than they already are. To illustrate our framework, we consider two cases: that of a vulnerable population involved in international research and that of a domestic population of people with diminished capacity.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:vulnerability, research ethics, Alzheimerís Disease, Tenofovir case
Research Division:Philosophy and Religious Studies
Research Group:Applied ethics
Research Field:Bioethics
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Ethics
Objective Field:Social ethics
UTAS Author:Dodds, S (Professor Susan Dodds)
ID Code:86509
Year Published:2013
Web of Science® Times Cited:70
Deposited By:Arts, Law and Education
Deposited On:2013-09-19
Last Modified:2014-07-21

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