Bioethics Blogs

The Belmont Report was published in 1978, goddammit!

Bioethicists Barron Lerner and Arthur Caplan have published a nice essay about using history to make better decisions today. I will comment on their main points in a separate post, but I want to address separately the authors’ repetition of a common error: the suggestion that the Belmont Report was published in 1979.

The Belmont Report was published in 1978, goddammit!

[Barron H. Lerner and Arthur L. Caplan, “Judging the Past: How History Should Inform Bioethics,” Annals of Internal Medicine 164, no. 8 (April 19, 2016): 553–57, doi:10.7326/M15–2642.

Here’s the mistake as it appears in the essay:

The public outcry over the revelations about the Tuskegee syphilis study was next, thanks to a 1972 newspaper exposé. This scandal led to the establishment of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which issued the famous Belmont Report in 1979 and the 3 following ethical principles designed to prevent future calamities: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.

In fact, the National Commission did not issue any documents in 1979, for it went out of existence in October 1978:

A month prior to its disbandment, on 30 September 1978, the Commission had formally transmitted the report to the president and other officials:

The Government Printing Office published the report, including the letters of transmittal, as DHEW Publication No. (OS) 78–0012:

What do you suppose that “78” stands for?

On 18 April 1979, nearly seven months after the transmittal, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare published the Belmont Report in the Federal Register and solicited public comment.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.