Three basic principles, among those generally accepted in our cultural tradition, are particularly relevant to the ethics of research involving human subjects: the principles of respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.
A. Respect for Persons incorporates at least two ethical convictions:
1. Individuals should be treated as autonomous agents.
An autonomous person is an individual capable of deliberation about personal goals and of acting under the direction of such deliberation To respect autonomy is to give weight to autonomous persons' considered opinions and choices while refraining from obstructing their actions unless they are clearly detrimental to others.
2. Persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection.
The capacity for self-determination matures during the life of an individual and may be lost, wholly or in part, because of illness, mental disability, or circumstances that severely restrict liberty. Some persons are in need of extensive protection; for others, it is only necessary to ensure that they undertake activities freely and with awareness of possible adverse consequences. The extent of protection afforded should depend upon the risk of harm and the likelihood of benefit.
B. Beneficence, in this Report, is understood as an obligation and incorporates these rules:
1. Do not harm.
However, even avoiding harm requires learning what is harmful which may expose individuals to risk as may the process of learning what will benefit. The problem is to decide when it is justifiable to seek certain benefits despite the risks involve.
2. Maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms.
C. Social Justice
The burdens and benefits of research should be justly distributed. The selection
of research subjects
needs to be scrutinized to determine whether some classes are being systematically selected simply
because of their easy availability, their compromised position, or their manipulability, rather than for
reasons directly related to the problem being studied.