Ethics in Clinical Research and Education in Healthcare

Our society has come to heavily depend upon the advancements in healthcare brought about by clinical research. Without decades of medical research and clinical trials, thousands of treatments and medications would not be available. Presumably, nearly all of our lives have been touched by this work. 

Although clinical research is highly valuable, there are plenty of flaws associated with it. Perhaps one of the most profound is unethical behavior in research, which stands to threaten the medical codes of ethics. Likewise, there are many biases that have become so ingrained in the research that many don’t even realize they exist. 

As our society becomes more and more aware of the transgressions associated with medical research, it becomes imperative that we demand changes be made. Making changes is the only way to fully ensure ethical treatment of all individuals who seek out medical help. Likewise, it is the only way to be certain doctors are truly aware of how best to help their patients. 

Ethics in Research

Ethical issues associated with various types of research have been around forever. Ethics come in many forms such as those associated with honesty and transparency to both test subjects and those who will be impacted by results of certain studies. Others include more philosophical ethics questions such as whether animals should be used as test subjects or if pursuing certain scientific hypotheses is appropriate. 

In clinical research, a standard code of ethics is something many scientists must live by, not only to maintain the respect of their peers but also to maintain their licensure to practice medicine. Standard ethical practices in medical research include things like transparency in risks of human trials, ensuring integrity of research results, and striving to prevent exploitation. 

Though many new rules and policies have been developed as a result of medical ethics violations, past mistakes still haunt us. For instance, men, women, and children have each been targeted for specific, dangerous trials where they were misinformed of the risks and taken advantage of in the name of discovery. Infamous examples include the Manhattan Project’s plutonium trials, the Tuskegee Institute’s syphilis study, the Willowbrook hepatitis experiments, and MKULTRA. Many vulnerable populations have suffered the brunt of the damage. 

Significant Impacts

There is no question that unethical behavior has played a role in eroding some of the confidence that many groups had in the entire medical field. Certain biases in research that have long been ingrained into our culture have also played a role. Recovering from these major missteps will take a substantial amount of time and effort. 

Many don’t realize the extent of bias in some of the drugs and treatment options that exist in today’s medical world. For example, numerous studies on medical treatment trial participants has revealed that there is a substantial lack of racial and ethnic diversity. The vast majority of medical research has been conducted on participants of European descent. This means there is very little understanding of potential impacts or treatment effectiveness on people from other backgrounds prior to the treatment being approved for everyone. 

These biases can also leak into actual medical treatment. For instance, studies have indicated that women are significantly more likely to have their pain downplayed by doctors. Doctors are more likely to think a woman is exaggerating pain or misdiagnosing herself, which can lead to ineffective treatments and a fear of not being taken seriously in critical moments. The downplay intensifies for women from minorities. All of this can lead to a growing distrust in the entire medical institution. 

Making a Change

Of course, addressing these issues is a critical aspect to regaining trust in many medical systems. Likewise, it is an imperative step towards providing better and more inclusive medical care to everyone. In the long run, these changes can lead to significant medical discoveries and a healthier society overall. 

None of these changes come easy though. Medical research institutions have had to reconcile with a past that isn’t always that glorious and make amends for past wrongs. Often, this has come in the form of new policies and regulations on how trial patients are to be treated. It has also meant remaining vigilant and regularly taking precautions to ensure ethics are held above all else. 

Clinical researchers can make a significant change by recognizing and working to address biases in clinical trials. Ultimately, this means running a greater number of trials on more patients with different ethnic backgrounds. Studying these differences seriously can lead to better patient outcomes. In addition, many healthcare leaders are striving to recognize their own personal biases and reset them. 


Ethics in clinical research has long been a work in progress and the past hasn’t always been that pretty. Today, many scientists are striving to rebuild trust that has been eroded through poor ethical choices in the past. Addressing these difficulties head-on and making changes to be more transparent and diverse can make a profound difference for healthcare organizations building strong relationships with the public.

Indiana Lee
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