Waiving legal rights in research

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The US federal research regulations prohibit informed consent, whether written or oral, from including provisions in which human subjects waive or appear to waive legal rights. We argue that policies that prevent human subjects from waiving legal rights in research can be ethically justified under the rationale of group, soft paternalism. These policies protect competent adults from making adverse decisions about health and legal matters that they may not understand fully. However, this rationale is less defensible if there is a comprehensive compensation for injury programme available in which subjects are asked to waive some legal rights in order to participate in the programme. In this situation, subjects should be allowed to waive some legal rights to obtain the benefits of the programme.

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