Clinical Research Ethics Question of the Month: December 2018

In collaboration with First Clinical Research, each month we share a new question and accompanying anonymous survey, designed to encourage critical thinking about questions in clinical research and highlight discussion generated by the prior month’s question.

This month’s scenario:

Scientists have created entities using artificial intelligence technology. These “betas” appear to have human-like intelligence and emotions so they could, for example, serve as companions for people who are lonely. The scientists want to conduct psychological experiments on them to improve their performance and reliability. While betas are not protected by human subjects protection regulations, the scientists have asked your institutional review board to review the ethics of the experiments anyway.

What limitations, if any, would you put on such experiments? Would you limit or forbid experiments that might seriously damage the betas? To answer this question and others, take the survey here.

The last question posed readers with a hypothetical situation in the investigator wants to vary the stipend based on each study participant’s financial situation, with the reasoning that a fixed stipend for everybody would exploit high-income people but unduly influence low-income people. The survey respondents were firmly against this proposal, with 93% of them voting to reject the study. The replies indicated that the survey participants found treating subjects differently on the basis of income to be a violation of ethical principles. The full report includes a fascinating look at the intersection of economics and ethics. You can read it here.

The Question of the Month also appears on the IRB Forum. The IRB Forum is a robust community of IRB professionals engaged in an ongoing discussion of the latest issues and questions that arise for human subjects protections professionals. An account is free, and gives you access to an invaluable resource—the insight of your peers.

PRIM&R thanks Norm Goldfarb of First Clinical Research for allowing us to share this feature with our community!