Testing Zika on consenting humans: Were ethicists right to get in the way?

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This was the proposal: Deliberately infect a small group of consenting adults with the Zika virus to learn about the disease and speed up the search for a vaccine.

So the National Institutes of Health called for an ethics consultation and asked two essential questions: Can a Zika “human challenge” study be ethically justified? If so, under what conditions?

The panel’s answer, in short, was this: The research could be justified, but conditions must be met. They pushed pause on the Zika study.

Appreciation for ethics review is not universally shared among research scientists…Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker memorably wrote, “A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape…based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as ‘dignity,’ ‘sacredness,’ or ‘social justice.’ ”

[However,] the panel’s reasoning and findings are compelling. They…indicated an awareness of a history too often either forgotten or considered yesterday’s problem.

That history is known by its settings — from Nuremberg to Willowbrook, Tuskegee to Guatemala — all shorthand for abuses in human subject research. Those cases, some of which continued for decades, are why bioethics came into being.

So when voluntary human subjects give informed consent, they should be able to trust that the researchers and their financial backers — government or otherwise — gave as much thought to the experiment’s risks to the participants as they did to the potential benefits to society.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: In Pausing Human Research On Zika, Medical Ethicists Acknowledge A Dark Past

For more background on the Genetic Literacy Project, read GLP on Wikipedia.

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