Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics



SPECIAL SECTION: ETHICAL LIMITS IN HUMAN SUBJECTS RESEARCH

From the Editors


The focus of the Special Section in this issue is the ethics of how knowledge is acquired through experiments on human subjects. Assuming that our use of language may have an effect on our thoughts and behavior, how we commonly understand the term “subject” in research with humans can undercut what is most important from an ethical perspective. The notion of “subject” can be crucially ambiguous in that it can refer to the units making up the “n” of a research study—those nameless, faceless, numbers supplying the information that supports, or fails to support, the researchers' hypothesis. On the other hand, “subject” can have a much deeper meaning. In addition to being participants in a study, the humans involved are, have been, or will be the subjects of lives—that is, they are real persons, with all the personal characteristics and social connections that entails. It is because of this status that they deserve to be regarded and protected. The degree to which we lose sight of this distinction increases the danger of crossing the ethical limits of human subjects research.



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