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Medical Research Ethics

Medical research ethics

Fundamental Concepts: Human Subjects

Medical research on human subjects has moral implications concerning a number of fundamental
concepts, such as personhood, autonomy, and sentience.

Human beings are individual persons. We have memories and thoughts about the future, and a
human being is able to unify his or her thoughts, beliefs, choices, desires, and feelings, and to
understand them as belonging to himself as an individual person who continues as the same self
over time.

Autonomy means that we each have the will or volition to reason and make choices, based on
our beliefs, desires and feelings. Each human being has the power of self-determination.

Sentience is the type of awareness that a creature has by obtaining information about the

external world via the use of senses such as vision, hearing, touch, or smell. Human beings
are not merely aware of the external world, we are self-aware.

We are aware of ourselves as rational beings who are at the same time aware of the external


As human beings, we are autonomous, sentient moral agents. Any program of medical research
that involves experimentation on human beings would need to respect these factors in order to be
morally permissible. At the very least researchers need to provide their human subjects the
opportunity for informed consent. Arguments: Human Subjects

There are many arguments that can be made both for and against medical research on humans. One might argue from the utilitarian perspective that medical research on human subjects is morally justified if that research leads to good consequences for the majority of people. even if the rights of the human subjects are violated. In contrast, the Kantian perspective is that human beings should never be treated as means to an end, and the innate rights of individual human beings should never be violated even if the research leads to good consequences,

However, a Kantian thinker might support research on human subjects if those subjects provide
informed consent to participate in the research, are treated with dignity and respect, and are compensated. Fundamental Concepts: Animal Subjects

Now let’s consider medical research on animal subjects. Although there is no settled conclusion on whether or not animals can be considered persons, it is fairly evident that animals are able to feel pain. Yet we don’t know the degree to which animals actually feel pain. Does an insect feel pain in the same way as a fish does? Does a fish feel pain in the same way as a gorilla does? Does any non- human animal have the capacity to be aware of its pain as its own pain? In other words, are non-human animals self-aware? Or are they only sentient of external phenomena?  

Arguments: Animal Subjects

Some argue that if research on animals can substantively benefit human life, then such

research should be done Experimentation on animals has led to the development of medicines

and technologies which have benefited and even helped to save human lives, And although, regrettably, there have been cases of animal abuse in the name of science, animals need not

be mistreated in the research process As medieval philosophers were keen to note, “abusus non tollit usum.” That’s Latin for “abuse does not preclude proper use”, In other words, even if a thing or a practice is abused in some cases, that does not mean that the thing or practice in question cannot be properly used in others. The argument is that the existence of isolated cases of abuse does not mean that all such research must be banned. ._it is possible to continue such activity in a morally proper manner.


But some objectors say that it is never necessary to use animal subjects in medical research,

pointing to the possibility of other options.


Still others say that it is always simply wrong to use animals for medical research, especially f the research causes pain to the animal. These people would claim that animals have moral
rights which we should not violate.  Do Animals Have Moral Rights?

Do animals have moral rights?

Consider two arguments, one supporting the idea that animals have moral rights and the other
rejecting the idea. First, one might argue that the possession of moral rights is necessarily linked to the capacity to feel pain.

If a creature has the capacity to feel pain, then that creature possesses moral rights. All animals have the capacity to feel pain Thus, all animals possess moral rights

Second, one might argue that the possession of moral rights is necessarily linked to moral agency
and not to the mere capacity to feel pain. Based on this point, the following argument can be constructed:

If a being has moral rights, then it is a moral agent. But animals are not moral agents. Thus, animals do not have moral rights.

Which argument do you find more reasonable?  


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