Equipoise and international human-subjects research

Bioethics. 2001 Aug;15(4):312-32. doi: 10.1111/1467-8519.00241.


This paper examines the role of equipoise in evaluating international research. It distinguishes two possible formulations of the equipoise requirement that license very different evaluations of international research proposals. The interpretation that adopts a narrow criterion of similarity between clinical contexts has played an important role in one recent controversy, but it suffers from a number of problems. An alternative interpretation that adopts a broader criterion of similarity does a better job of avoiding both exploitation of the brute fact of social deprivation and the exploitation of needy populations for the benefit of more well-off populations. It also holds out the promise of reconciling the need to find interventions that can be employed in developing world contexts with the cluster of moral values that must constrain the way such research is carried out.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic / standards*
  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries*
  • Ethical Analysis*
  • Ethical Relativism*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / therapy
  • Human Experimentation*
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical
  • Internationality*
  • Placebos
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women
  • Research Design*
  • Research Subjects
  • Uganda
  • Uncertainty*
  • United States
  • Zidovudine


  • Placebos
  • Zidovudine