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      Clinical research without consent in adults in the emergency setting: a review of patient and public views

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          In emergency research, obtaining informed consent can be problematic. Research to develop and improve treatments for patients admitted to hospital with life-threatening and debilitating conditions is much needed yet the issue of research without consent (RWC) raises concerns about unethical practices and the loss of individual autonomy. Consistent with the policy and practice turn towards greater patient and public involvement in health care decisions, in the US, Canada and EU, guidelines and legislation implemented to protect patients and facilitate acute research with adults who are unable to give consent have been developed with little involvement of the lay public. This paper reviews research examining public opinion regarding RWC for research in emergency situations, and whether the rules and regulations permitting research of this kind are in accordance with the views of those who ultimately may be the most affected.


          Seven electronic databases were searched: Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Philosopher's Index, Age Info, PsychInfo, Sociological Abstracts and Web of Science. Only those articles pertaining to the views of the public in the US, Canada and EU member states were included. Opinion pieces and those not published in English were excluded.


          Considering the wealth of literature on the perspectives of professionals, there was relatively little information about public attitudes. Twelve studies employing a range of research methods were identified. In five of the six questionnaire surveys around half the sample did not agree generally with RWC, though paradoxically, a higher percentage would personally take part in such a study. Unfortunately most of the studies were not designed to investigate individuals' views in any depth. There also appears to be a level of mistrust of medical research and some patients were more likely to accept an experimental treatment 'outside' of a research protocol.


          There are too few data to evaluate whether the rules and regulations permitting RWC protects – or is acceptable to – the public. However, any attempts to engage the public should take place in the context of findings from further basic research to attend to the apparently paradoxical findings of some of the current surveys.

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          Most cited references 56

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          What makes clinical research ethical?

          Many believe that informed consent makes clinical research ethical. However, informed consent is neither necessary nor sufficient for ethical clinical research. Drawing on the basic philosophies underlying major codes, declarations, and other documents relevant to research with human subjects, we propose 7 requirements that systematically elucidate a coherent framework for evaluating the ethics of clinical research studies: (1) value-enhancements of health or knowledge must be derived from the research; (2) scientific validity-the research must be methodologically rigorous; (3) fair subject selection-scientific objectives, not vulnerability or privilege, and the potential for and distribution of risks and benefits, should determine communities selected as study sites and the inclusion criteria for individual subjects; (4) favorable risk-benefit ratio-within the context of standard clinical practice and the research protocol, risks must be minimized, potential benefits enhanced, and the potential benefits to individuals and knowledge gained for society must outweigh the risks; (5) independent review-unaffiliated individuals must review the research and approve, amend, or terminate it; (6) informed consent-individuals should be informed about the research and provide their voluntary consent; and (7) respect for enrolled subjects-subjects should have their privacy protected, the opportunity to withdraw, and their well-being monitored. Fulfilling all 7 requirements is necessary and sufficient to make clinical research ethical. These requirements are universal, although they must be adapted to the health, economic, cultural, and technological conditions in which clinical research is conducted. JAMA. 2000;283:2701-2711.
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            The ethics of clinical research in the Third World.

             M Angell (1997)
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              Reasons for accepting or declining to participate in randomized clinical trials for cancer therapy

              This paper reports on the reasons why patients agreed to or declined entry into randomized trials of cancer following discussions conducted by clinicians in both District General and University Hospitals. Two hundred and four patients completed a 16-item questionnaire following the consultation, of these 112 (55%) were women with breast cancer. Overall results showed that 147 (72.1%) patients accepted entry to a randomized clinical trial (RCT). The main reasons nominated for participating in a trial were that ‘others will benefit’ (23.1%) and ‘trust in the doctor’ (21.1%). One of the main reasons for declining trial entry was that patients were ‘worried about randomization’ (19.6%). There was a significantly higher acceptance rate for trials providing active treatment in every arm 98 (80.6%) compared with those trials with a no treatment arm 46 (60.5%), χ2test P = 0.003. The study outlines a number of factors that appear to influence a patient’s decision to accept or decline entry into an RCT of cancer therapy. An important factor is whether or not the trial offers active treatment in all arms of the study. Communication that promotes trust and confidence in the doctor is also a powerful motivating influence. © 2000 Cancer Research Campaign

                Author and article information

                [1 ]Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, The Medical School, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
                [2 ]Stroke Research Group, Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
                [3 ]Department of General Internal Medicine, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
                BMC Med Ethics
                BMC Medical Ethics
                BioMed Central
                29 April 2008
                : 9
                : 9
                Copyright © 2008 Lecouturier et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Research Article



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