Human experimentation has been in practice for centuries and it was not until recently that it has been questioned. By definition human experimentation is when a researcher deliberately induces or alters a person's physical or mental functions. Human experimentation is preformed in ways that might prove therapeutic to the patient, but for which there is as yet insufficient evidence to make this reasonably certain. It can also be preformed in ways that will not be of any conceivable benefit to the particular patient, but which may advance scientific knowledge and human welfare. Although many wonderful medical discoveries have been made through human experimentation, it is also filled with many examples of unethical abuses of patients and their overall well being. Therefore, human experimentation should be refined to make more safe and ethical experiments.
There are many ways human experimentation can be unethical. Most experiments where humans were used prove to be unethical due to abuse by the researcher who is conducting the experiment. Populations used for the experiments are often times chosen unethically. Researchers commonly choose populations that are easy to exploit. They choose prisoners, children, mentally ill, or patients on their deathbeds. All of these populations give consent to experiments based on little knowledge or because they believe their life has no purpose.
Researchers should be choosing populations that understand the meaning of consent and what it means to be involved in a particular experiment. There are many reasons why choosing prisoners, children, mentally ill, and patients on their deathbeds is unethical. According to Susan Sherwin, professor of philosophy and women's studies at Dalhousie University and also creditor of Moral Problems in Medicine, "Most bioethicist's agree, for instance, that research on prisoners is questionable even if the offer consent, because the range of autonomous choice available to them is so restricted that their consent may not be meaningful" (161). Prisoners who choose to be involved in medical experiments are doing so with little information and for the wrong reasons. Children can also be involved in experiments with the consent of their parents. According to James B. Nelson, professor of Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and Jo Anne Smith Rohricht, board member of the United Church of Christ Advisory Board on Health and Human Services, "Experiments entailing substantial risk to children are not justified even if the parents give consent" (75).
Researchers should not be allowed to perform experiments on children if they have the knowledge that it will most likely result in risk to the child's health or well being. Patients on their deathbeds should not be allowed to participate in medical experiments. Nelson and Rohricht acknowledged, "To die in dignity means that one has conscious control over one's own personal responses to the dying process. An experiment which intrudes on this personal hour can be inhumanly exploitative" (77). There is no need to include dying patients in experiments because they may not even be able to finish the procedure. Researchers who do this are taking respect away from the patient and not looking out for their well being.
Many times in medical experiments, researchers forget to take into consideration the well being and safety of their patients. They get so wrapped up in their experiment that they think of their patients as mere objects. Nelson and Rohricht admit, "Misuse comes when a subject is seen as an object of the investigator's control, when the subject is a means to an end in which that person cannot have voluntary share but for which a heavy personal price might have to be paid" (71). In experiments, patients trust in their doctors and assume that their doctors will still pay close attention to their health. Even in procedures where the experiment is meant to improve the overall health of the patient there are no guarantees, it is still just an experiment. Sherwin believes, "Even in so-called therapeutic research, where subjects have some hope of personal benefit, no assurances can be offered to the patient-subjects as long as the treatment being evaluated is experimental" (160).
Patients are often fooled into being part of experiments because they think that they will be cured of their illness. Researchers need to take more responsibility for their patients and make sure that they know when their safety and well being are at risk. A few things could be done to make sure their patients knew of the safety risks and threats to their well beings that the experiments could cause. Sherwin declares, "We need ethical guidelines that will govern patient's participation in medical research to ensure that patient's service to this research is not especially dangerous for the individuals involved" (161). Having a set of ethical guidelines would make sure that researchers knew that they must inform their patients of the high risks of the experiments. Sherwin also adds, "We should also try to ensure that the research in question contributes to the overall well-being of patients, not to any further harm for them" (161).
If these two things were carried out by researchers, experiments would be run in a much more ethical manner. Researchers need to ensure that their patients have given consent and are informed of what the experiment entails. Consent can be a problem when patients are not informed of the details of the experiment and agree to it without knowing the facts. According to Nelson and Rohricht, "Most public challenges to medical experimenters have centered on the inadequacy of the consent obtained in particular projects" (71).
Before a patient gives consent they should have all the facts and know what they are signing up for, otherwise it is unethical. Patients also deserve to be informed of all the specific details of the experiment. Many times little information of the effects of the experiment are given, which leads the patient to believe it is safe. Nelson and Rohricht point out, "Since we are aware of enough experiments in which adequate, honest information was not given and in which consent was subtly engineered we have a right to insist on exceptional concern at this point" (77). Researchers are tricking their patients into participating in their experiments.
Some things need to be done to ensure consent is received and information about the experiments are given ethically. Many times researchers do not give their patients all the information they deserve. Nelson and Rohricht think, "True partnership compels the investigator to share frankly his or his own personal stake in the project. This is an important ingredient which the subject has a right to know" (77). The researcher needs to inform patients of his or her purpose in the experiment and what he or she thinks about it. Researchers may give their patients all the facts in a way that is confusing and leaves the patients with little or no understanding of the experiment.
Nelson and Rohricht note, "Communication involves more than simply telling the facts, as honest as the investigator's intent may be" (78). Each patient has the right to understand what exactly the experiment involves before they sign up to partake in it. Public Policy is also a subject of great concern, because there are very few laws that protect the rights of the patients involved in experiments. The few laws that do exist are rarely enforced. Today, there seems to be more concern for animals involved in experiments rather than people. According to an article from the Medical Post, "Lab rats receive more ethical treatment than human subjects when it comes to being part of medical research" (1).
This is of serious concern to many doctors, lawyers, and ethicist's that feel that humans also deserve ethical treatment. There are very few standards that researchers working with humans need to meet. The article from the Medical Post states, "There are no such review or education programs for research in which human subjects are used" (1). There are many councils that protect animal rights in experiments and ensure their safety in research, but nothing of the sort exists for human research. Facilities that perform unethical treatment to animals are harshly punished where as unethical treatment to humans in experiments is rarely even looked into. According to the article from the Medical Post, "If a research facility is found to be negligent in the way it treats animals, or doesn't meet the standard, research money can be withdrawn.
There is no such penalty in place for centers partaking in human research" (2). Researchers have free rein of their patients with little supervision or laws to prevent unethical treatment. In order to insure that humans are being treated ethically in experiments, more laws on ethics need to be created. Until there are more laws with strict enforcement of them, unethical human research will still continue.
Even the idea of a board that would review the experiments in which humans were used would help to make sure they were preformed ethically. Experiments that use humans as subjects have advanced, and will continue to advance the field of medicine and help to find cures for diseases. They are an essential part of medicine. According to the article in Government Account Office Report, Clinical trials generate the evidence base for decision-making in all areas of medicine, and they can be especially important for patients with serious or life threatening health conditions that have limited treatment options. For those patients, participation in a clinical trial-a formal investigation of the effects of an experimental intervention on people-may offer the best chance of finding an effective treatment. (1) Human experimentation needs to continue but with a more ethical approach.
Laws need to be made to ensure that patients are being treated ethically. Researchers need to follow guidelines for choosing populations, ensuring the safety and well being of their patients, receiving consent, and giving a through account of what exactly the experiment entails. If all of this was done, human experimentation would be looked upon much more highly and everyone could benefit from it.