Ethical and practical considerations for HIV cure-related research at the end-of-life: a qualitative interview and focus group study in the United States

BMC Medical Ethics 23 (1):1-17 (2022)
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Abstract

BackgroundOne of the next frontiers in HIV research is focused on finding a cure. A new priority includes people with HIV with non-AIDS terminal illnesses who are willing to donate their bodies at the end-of-life to advance the search towards an HIV cure. We endeavored to understand perceptions of this research and to identify ethical and practical considerations relevant to implementing it.MethodsWe conducted 20 in-depth interviews and 3 virtual focus groups among four types of key stakeholders in the United States to obtain triangulated viewpoints because little was known about the ethics of this topic. Each group was queried as to ethical considerations, safeguards, and protections for conducting HIV cure-related research at the EOL to ensure this research remains acceptable.ResultsAll four key stakeholder groups generally supported HIV cure-related research conducted at the EOL because of the history of altruism within the PWH community and the potential for substantial scientific knowledge to be gained. Our informants expressed that: Strong stakeholder and community involvement are integral to the ethical and effective implementation, as well as the social acceptability of this research; PWH approaching the EOL should not inherently be considered a vulnerable class and their autonomy must be respected when choosing to participate in HIV cure-related research at the EOL; Greater diversity among study participants, as well as multi-disciplinary research teams, is necessitated by HIV cure-related research at the EOL; The sensitive nature of this research warrants robust oversight to ensure a favorable risk/benefit balance and to minimize the possibility of therapeutic misconception or undue influence; and Research protocols should remain flexible to accommodate participants’ comfort and needs at the EOL.ConclusionBecause of the ethical issues presented by HIV cure-related research at the EOL, robust ethical safeguards are of utmost importance. The proposed ethical and practical considerations presented herein is a first step in determining the best way to maximize this research’s impact and social value. More much inquiry will need to be directed towards understanding context-specific and cultural considerations for implementing EOL HIV cure research in diverse settings.

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