Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 24 (4):547-562 (2021)

This paper targets an orphan topic in research ethics, namely the so called principle of the primacy of the human being, which states that the interests of the human subject should always take precedence over the interests of science and society. Although the principle occupies the central position in the majority of international ethical and legal standards for biomedical research, it has been commented in the literature mainly in passing. With a few notable exceptions, there is little in-depth discussion about the meaning and role of the principle. Several authors note that the principle is vogue, ambiguous and apparently conflicting with the accepted practice of conducting non-beneficial research on individuals unable to give consent. There are opinions that it is just “a vacuous figure of speech” and should be abandoned. This paper argues that the primacy principle is far from being “a vacuous figure of speech”, rather it should be seen as a threefold concept: a fundamental interpretative rule, a procedural rule, and a substantive rule aimed at protecting research subjects from instrumental treatment and unacceptable risks. This interpretation tracks back to the principle regulatory and normative origins in the Declaration of Helsinki of 1975, but also acknowledges changes in research ethics and practice, which took place at the turn on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Thus, the proposed reading of the principle is not only original, but also historically grounded and normatively fruitful. It provides a fresh and ethically rich perspective on extensively debated, but still controversial problem of an upper limit of permissible risks in non-beneficial studies.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11019-021-10043-2
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,231
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics.L. W. Sumner - 1996 - Oxford University Press.

View all 49 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Moral Primacy of the Human Being.C. Parker - 2010 - Journal of Medical Ethics 36 (9):563-566.
牛溪 成渾의 主理主氣纔發或主說에 關한 硏究.Kyo-jin Sung - 2008 - Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 9:303-313.
Concept Diagrams and the Context Principle.Jens Lemanski - 2020 - In Language, Logic, and Mathematics in Schopenhauer. Cham, Schweiz: Birkhäuser (Springer nature). pp. 47-73.
Adam Smith and Catholic Social Teaching.Nuno Ornelas Martins - 2021 - Journal of Business Ethics 170 (2):401-411.
The Primacy of Ethics: Hobbes and Levinas. [REVIEW]Cheryl L. Hughes - 1998 - Continental Philosophy Review 31 (1):79-94.


Added to PP index

Total views
1 ( #1,552,166 of 2,518,487 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #408,186 of 2,518,487 )

How can I increase my downloads?


Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

My notes