Protecting vulnerable research subjects in critical care trials: enhancing the informed consent process and recommendations for safeguards

Ann Intensive Care. 2011 Apr 13;1(1):8. doi: 10.1186/2110-5820-1-8.


Although critically ill patients represent a vulnerable group of individuals, guidelines in research ethics assert that ethically acceptable research may proceed with such vulnerable subjects if additional safeguards are in place to minimize the risk of harm and exploitation. Such safeguards include the proper obtainment of informed consent that avoids the presence of the therapeutic misconception and the assessment of decisional capacity in critically ill patients recruited for research. Also discussed in this review are additional safeguards for such vulnerable subjects, as well as the issues involved with proxy consent. Heightened awareness to principles of ethics and provision of additional safeguards to enhance protections of vulnerable subjects would help to maintain the public trust in the research endeavor.