The historical foundations of the research-practice distinction in bioethics

Theor Med Bioeth. 2012 Feb;33(1):45-56. doi: 10.1007/s11017-011-9207-8.


The distinction between clinical research and clinical practice directs how we partition medicine and biomedical science. Reasons for a sharp distinction date historically to the work of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, especially to its analysis of the "boundaries" between research and practice in the Belmont Report (1978). Belmont presents a segregation model of the research-practice distinction, according to which research and practice form conceptually exclusive sets of activities and interventions. This model is still the standard in federal regulations today. However, the Commission's deliberations and conclusions about the boundaries are more complicated, nuanced, and instructive than has generally been appreciated. The National Commission did not conclude that practice needs no oversight comparable to the regulation of research. It debated the matter and inclined to the view that the oversight of practice needed to be upgraded, though the Commission stopped short of proposing new regulations for its oversight, largely for prudential political reasons.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Advisory Committees*
  • Bioethics / history
  • Biomedical Research / ethics*
  • Biomedical Research / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Clinical Medicine / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Ethics Committees, Research
  • Ethics, Medical* / history
  • Ethics, Research* / history
  • Federal Government
  • Government Regulation
  • History, 20th Century
  • Human Experimentation / ethics*
  • Human Experimentation / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Politics
  • United States