Bioethics Blogs

The Ethical Imperialism of the NAS

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Federal Research Regulations and Reporting Requirements has released the second part of its report, Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century. The new part includes a chapter on “Ethical, Legal, and Regulatory Framework for Human Subjects Research.” While presenting valid critiques of the NRPM, the chapter ignores the voices of scholars in social sciences and the humanities. Its proposals are unlikely to be adopted, and if they were they would continue the half-century history of marginalizing those disciplines.

Yes, the NPRM has problems

The report identifies four main problems with the NPRM:

Several provisions of the proposed regulations have been identified as problematic. These include: (1) proposed changes relating to the definition and handling of biospecimens; (2) how determinations are made regarding whether certain types of research may be excluded from administrative or institutional review board consideration; (3) inconsistencies amongst the proposed changes; and (4) an absence of specifics for key deliverables… .

The omission of specifics on key tools and guidelines like the exemption determination tool, consent templates, and list of privacy safeguards is problematic; because the items are undefined at present, it is impossible to comment on their merit or utility prior to the issuance of the final rule. Furthermore, it is not possible to provide an accurate estimation of regulatory impact without a clear understanding of what compliance will involve.

All true.

But the NAS counterproposal is unrealistic

The report recommends

that Congress authorize, and the President appoint, an independent, free-standing national commission modeled on the President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research.

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.