Protecting human subjects in research

Insight. Jul-Sep 2009;34(3):14-6.


The quest for advancing scientific knowledge through human experimentations using vulnerable groups is traced back to ancient history, when Herophilus performed vivisections on prisoners. The violation of the rights of human subjects through the 20th century led to the formulation of the Nuremberg Code in 1947 and the Declaration of Helsinki in 1964. In the United States, the most infamous was the Tuskegee public health study that resulted in the enactment of the National Research Act that authorized the creation of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects in Biomedical and Behavioral Research in 1974. In spite of existing federal regulations, the system of protecting human subjects is still flawed. Transparency of conflict ofinterest, clarity, and strict adherence to institutional guidelines are critical in safeguarding the rights and safety of human subjects and the integrity of research. Education on ethics and emerging complex ethical issues, global awareness, and governmental cooperation and sanctions are important steps in addressing the inadequacies in protecting the most vulnerable populations in experimentations worldwide. Investigators must always remember that the primary safeguards of protecting human life rest in their hands.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Human Experimentation / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Human Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Medical / organization & administration*
  • United States