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Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal
Research Involving Minors−A Duty of Solidarity?
Department of Philosophy, University of Berne, Langgassstrasse 49a, 3012 Berne, Switzerland
Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine: Ethics in the Neurosciences (INM-8), Forschungszentrum Julich
Research without direct medical benefit for the participants raises a number of difficult ethical issues. In particular, it is controversial whether it is ethically justifiable to conduct such research with participants who are unable to give informed consent, in particular minors. One attempt to vindicate such research is based on the concept of group benefit. According to this concept, experiments are justified, even if they do not hold out direct medical benefit for the participants, as long as they can be expected to be beneficial for members of a group that the research subjects are also members of (e.g., the group of minors). In this article, we shall reject the concept of group benefit as a means to justify medical research involving minors. Instead, we suggest an approach that bears on the concept of solidarity, understood as a principle of a moral division of labor that is based on considerations about efficiency in discharging ethical requirements. According to this approach, minors can be under the obligation to participate in research insofar as they are in a privileged position to help overcome an ethically relevant deficit. This is, admittedly, only the case as long as the participation is not excessively demanding. In closing, we discuss some possible objections against this approach.
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