Human research subjects as human research workers

Yale J Health Policy Law Ethics. 2014 Winter;14(1):122-93.


Biomedical research involving human subjects has traditionally been treated as a unique endeavor, presenting special risks and demanding special protections. But in several ways, the regulatory scheme governing human subjects research is counter-intuitively less protective than the labor and employment laws applicable to many workers. This Article relies on analogical and legal reasoning to demonstrate that this should not be the case; in a number of ways, human research subjects ought to be fundamentally recast as human research workers. Like other workers protected under worklaw, biomedical research subjects often have interests that diverge from those in positions of control but little bargaining power for change. Bearing these important similarities in mind, the question becomes whether there is any good reason to treat subjects and protected workers differently as a matter of law. With regard to unrestricted payment, eligibility for a minimum wage, compensation for injury, and rights to engage in concerted activity, the answer is no and human subjects regulations ought to be revised accordingly.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / ethics
  • Collective Bargaining / ethics
  • Collective Bargaining / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Compensation and Redress / ethics
  • Compensation and Redress / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Employment / economics*
  • Employment / ethics*
  • Employment / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Income*
  • Labor Unions
  • Research Subjects / economics*
  • Research Subjects / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Unemployment
  • United States