World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki: ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects

J Am Coll Dent. Summer 2014;81(3):14-8.

Abstract

Published research in English-language journals are increasingly required to carry a statement that the study has been approved and monitored by an Institutional Review Board in conformance with 45 CFR 46 standards if the study was conducted in the United States. Alternative language attesting conformity with the Helsinki Declaration is often included when the research was conducted in Europe or elsewhere. The Helsinki Declaration was created by the World Medical Association in 1964 (ten years before the Belmont Report) and has been amended several times. The Helsinki Declaration differs from its American version in several respects, the most significant of which is that it was developed by and for physicians. The term "patient" appears in many places where we would expect to see "subject." It is stated in several places that physicians must either conduct or have supervisory control of the research. The dual role of the physician-researcher is acknowledged, but it is made clear that the role of healer takes precedence over that of scientist. In the United States, the federal government developed and enforces regulations on researcher; in the rest of the world, the profession, or a significant part of it, took the initiative in defining and promoting good research practice, and governments in many countries have worked to harmonize their standards along these lines. The Helsinki Declaration is based less on key philosophical principles and more on prescriptive statements. Although there is significant overlap between the Belmont and the Helsinki guidelines, the latter extends much further into research design and publication. Elements in a research protocol, use of placebos, and obligation to enroll trials in public registries (to ensure that negative findings are not buried), and requirements to share findings with the research and professional communities are included in the Helsinki Declaration. As a practical matter, these are often part of the work of American IRBs, but not always as a formal requirement. Reflecting the socialist nature of many European counties, there is a requirement that provision be made for patients to be made whole regardless of the outcomes of the trial or if they happened to have been randomized to a control group that did not enjoy the benefits of a successful experimental intervention.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / ethics
  • Helsinki Declaration*
  • Human Experimentation / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics
  • Placebos
  • Publishing / ethics
  • Registries
  • Risk Assessment / ethics

Substances

  • Placebos