Should protections for research with humans who cannot consent apply to research with nonhuman primates?

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 35 (2):157-173 (2014)
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Abstract

Research studies and interventions sometimes offer potential benefits to subjects that compensate for the risks they face. Other studies and interventions, which I refer to as “nonbeneficial” research, do not offer subjects a compensating potential for benefit. These studies and interventions have the potential to exploit subjects for the benefit of others, a concern that is especially acute when investigators enroll individuals who are unable to give informed consent. US regulations for research with human subjects attempt to address this concern by mandating strict protections for nonbeneficial research with subjects who cannot consent. Typically, humans who cannot consent, such as children, may be enrolled in nonbeneficial research only when it poses low risks and has the potential to gather information of sufficient value to justify the risks, an appropriate surrogate gives permission on the individual’s behalf and the individual agrees (assents). In contrast, US regulations for nonbeneficial research with nonhuman primates do not include these protections, even though it too involves subjects who cannot consent and who face risks for the benefit of others. Is this difference in regulatory protections justified? Or does the principle of fairness—treat like cases alike—imply that regulations for nonbeneficial research with nonhuman primates should include protections similar to those that apply to nonbeneficial research with humans who cannot consent?

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