Bioethics Blogs

A social scientist’s guide to the Final Rule

On 18 January 2017, sixteen federal agencies announced revisions to the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects. As I noted earlier, this marks a huge victory for historians, who have spent the last 20 years working to end the inappropriate interference of IRBs with oral history research.

In addition, the final rule includes several provisions of note to scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Here are some of them; I don’t claim it is a complete list.

No biospecimens overhaul; less controversy

The final rule “does not adopt the proposal to require that research involving nonidentified biospecimens be subject to the Common Rule, and that consent would need to be obtained in order to conduct such research.” This was the target of the greatest criticism from groups like the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and SACHRP. So while this change has little direct bearing on the work of social scientists and scholars in the humanities, it will likely reduce the controversy surrounding the regulatory reform as a whole.

The abandonment of the biospecimens proposal could also reduce opposition to reform by conservatives. The House Freedom Caucus opposed a new Common Rule on the grounds that it would cost $13.334 billion over 10 years. This figure seems to have been drawn from the NPRM’s quantified costs of $13.342 billion (using a 3 percent discount rate), and ignored the NPRM’s quantified benefits of $2.6 billion. If all the Freedom Caucus cares about is money, it may like the final rule a lot more.

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.