Tuesday, June 20, 2006 - 07:03
I recently completed a long trip out-of-town, giving a presentation at a Bio-Link conference in Berkeley, and teaching a couple of bioinformatics classes at the University of Texas, through the National Science Foundation's Chautauqua program. The Human Subjects Protection Course Before I left town, I had to take a class on how to treat human subjects. It seems strange, in some ways, to be doing this now, several years after completing graduate school, but my experimental subjects have generally been plants, protozoans, and bacteria; with a few rabbits, rats, and mice thrown in as antibody factories or homes for trypanosomes; not humans. The NIH class was straightforward and even, surprisingly interesting. We were required to read information, answer questions, and review case studies. Happily, the ethical guidelines for working with human subjects are, for the most part, pretty reasonable. There are probably people who will disagree with me, but I thought the rules were fine and I was glad to learn that these protections are in place. There are three concepts that guide biomedical ethics: Respect for persons, Beneficence, and Justice. If I translate those into some quick rules for researchers, I come up with rules like these:
- You can't do experiments on people without their knowledge.
- Researchers are obligated to maximize benefits and minimize harm.
- No one can participate in a study unless they understand what they are doing.
- People who participate in a study must be treated with respect and their privacy must be protected.
- A person who participates in a study can opt out and quit at any time.