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Basic Ethical Principles

Basic ethical principles cited in the Belmont Report:

Respect for Persons:  Human subjects must be treated as autonomous and able to make responsible choices. Respect for persons incorporates at least two ethical convictions: (1) that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and (2) that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection. The principle of respect for persons thus divides into two separate moral requirements: (1) the requirement to acknowledge autonomy and (2) the requirement to protect those with diminished autonomy. This principle leads to the requirement of informed voluntary consent.

Beneficence:  Persons are treated in an ethical manner not only by respecting their decisions and protecting them from harm, but also by making efforts to secure their well-being. Such treatment falls under the principle of beneficence. The term “beneficence” is often understood to cover acts of kindness or charity that go beyond strict obligation. In this document, beneficence is understood in a stronger sense, as an obligation. Two general rules have been formulated as complementary expressions of beneficent actions in this sense: (1) do not harm and (2) maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms. Subjects must be protected from harm and their well being must be secured. This principle leads to the requirement that the benefits to subjects or to humanity generally must be judged to outweigh the risks to subjects.

Justice:  The risks and benefits of research must be distributed fairly without creating differences in treatment among ethnic, racial, religious, sexual, or age defined classes. This principle leads to the requirement that investigators take care not to exploit special categories of persons less able to refuse participation in research such as prisoners, mental patients, and children.