John Harris, Professor of Bioethics at the Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics at the University of Manchester, and a leading ethicist, in an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics says the public has a moral obligation to support and take part in scientific research.
Although he does not advocate making it a legal requirement for people to get involved ,he contends that compulsion is, in principle, justifiable especially in certain circumstances.
Professor Harris says that other activities in society, such as vaccination, the wearing of seatbelts, and jury service, require the loss of personal autonomy for the public good , medical research is another such case and it warrants a change to the Declaration of Helsinki, which sets out the ethical grounds for research.
He says as everyone in society stands to benefit from research, and has already done so, it should be economically, politically, and personally supported, and financial incentives to participate in research are fully justified and far preferable to compulsion.
Professor Harris is of the opinion that research has universally been treated with suspicion and even hostility by most of those involved in its regulation and the assumption prevails that only the insane, the reckless, or the excessively altruistic would ever dream of taking part in it.
Suspicion of doctors and biomedical research is historically well founded, but that does not mean that research is guilty until proven innocent.
Harris writes that "Vigilance against wrongdoing is one thing; the inability to identify wrongdoing, with the result that the good is frustrated and harm caused is quite another".
He concludes that the argument concerning the obligation to participate in research should be compelling for anyone who believes there is a moral obligation to help others, and little can be said to those whose morality is so impoverished that they do not accept either of these two obligations.
Professor John Harris, Institute of Medicine Law and Bioethics, University
of Manchester, Manchester, UK
Tel: +44 (0)161 275 3473
Email: [email protected]