Exploitation in biomedical research

Theor Med Bioeth. 2003;24(3):233-59. doi: 10.1023/a:1024811830049.


This essay analyzes exploitation in biomedical research in terms of three basic elements: harm, disrespect, or injustice. There are also degrees of exploitation, ranging from highly exploitative to minimally exploitative. Although exploitation is prima facie wrongful, some exploitative research studies are morally justified, all things considered. The reason an exploitative study can still be ethical is that other moral considerations, such as the autonomy of the research subject or the social benefits of research, may sometimes justify studies that are minimally exploitative. Calling a research project exploitative does not end the debate about the merits of the study but invites one to ask additional questions about how the study is exploitative, and whether the study is justifiable nevertheless.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research
  • Coercion*
  • Complicity
  • Ethical Analysis
  • Ethics, Research*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Morals*
  • Research Subjects
  • Social Justice*
  • United States
  • Vulnerable Populations