Professional Integrity in Clinical Research

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Abstract

In response to public concern over abuses in human medical experimentation, the dominant approach to the ethics of clinical research during the past 30 years has been regulation, particularly via institutional review board review and approval of scientific protocols and written consent forms.However, the effectiveness of regulatory mechanisms in ensuring the ethical conduct of clinical research is limited. Little attention has been devoted to the nature and role of professional integrity of physician investigators, a conscientious framework for guiding investigators in the socially important but morally complex activity of clinical research. Professional integrity is vital in forging an ethically sound relationship between investigators and patient volunteers, a relationship that differs in important ways from the patient-physician relationship in standard clinical practice. We examine critically 2 models of the moral identity of physician investigators, the investigator as clinician and the investigator as scientist; in neither of these 2 models can the physician investigator eliminate completely the moral conflicts posed by clinical research. The professional integrity of physician investigators depends on a coherent moral identity that is proper to the enterprise of clinical research. The roles of clinician and scientist must be integrated to manage conscientiously the ethical complexity, ambiguity, and tensions between the potentially competing loyalties of science and care of volunteer patients.

JAMA.1998;280:1449-1454

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