research, and justice was seen as part of this protection,” but since the early 1990s “justice as applied in research ethics has emphasized the need to ensure access to the potential benefits that research has to offer” (Mastroianni and Kahn, 2001).
During the committee’s October 2005 meeting, the prisoner liaison panel spent a great deal of time debating the appropriateness of including prisoners in research, with special concerns for biomedical research.
“We have 275 million people in this country. We have 2 million in prisons. What is the allure to this population, if it is not the fact that it is a controlled population?” asked Daniel Murphy, Ph.D., a former prisoner in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and now professor in the Department of Political Science and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University. In other words, why conduct studies with prisoners when there are many more people outside of prison who are potential participants?
Some fundamental changes in the nature of the research conducted with human subjects provide support for this account of the recent history of research practices. For example, although the paradigmatic studies with prisoners in the period leading up to the report were studies in which investigators induced disease to learn more about it, biomedical research is more likely now to be discussed in terms of clinical trials comparing alternative beneficial treatments. The last several years have also seen the publication of studies comparing the outcome between patients who participate in clinical trials and those who receive standard care outside such trials; the results have tended to favor the former (Agrawal and Emanuel, 2003).
The two accounts can be reconciled in several ways. Increased protectionism is quite visible over the past century, whereas movements demanding greater access to clinical trials are far more recent. Further, protectionism as distrust of individual investigators can coexist with a view that participation in research subject to external oversight can often offer benefits to individuals and groups. One can simultaneously believe that the piling on of more rules and oversight bodies at some point becomes counterproductive and that human subjects are presently inadequately protected. Indeed, many modern ethicists seem to hope for a reawakening of scientific conscience rather than additional fortifications to the citadel of regulations.