The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has posted a new educational module on its website, Bioethics.gov. The module on vulnerable populations accompanies the Bioethics Commission’s two-volume report Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 1) and Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 2). Additional educational materials on vulnerable populations include a background module, as well as report-specific modules that accompany the Bioethics Commission reports: Safeguarding Children: Pediatric Medical Countermeasure Research and “Ethically Impossible”: STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948. Other topics covered by the Bioethics Commission’s educational modules include community engagement, compensation for research-related injury, informed consent, privacy, and research design.
The Vulnerable Populations in Gray Matters module focuses on vulnerability specifically in the context of neuroscience research. The module provides instructors with a description of the ways in which individuals with impaired consent capacity might be vulnerable. It describes circumstances that might make potential participants vulnerable, including desperation and imprisonment, which merit ethical consideration in neuroscience research. It also addresses additional protections researchers can employ to protect potentially vulnerable populations in research, including those with impaired consent capacity.
The educational modules produced by the Bioethics Commission are based on the contemporary ethical issues addressed by the Commission, and are designed to provide instructors with foundational information, ethical analysis, discussion questions, problem-based learning scenarios, exercises, and additional resources to support ethics education and the integration of bioethical analysis into coursework across disciplines.