Carnegie Mellon University
Ethics in Medicine and Scientific Research

Ethics in Medicine and Scientific Research

Progress in the life sciences, changing demographics and social values, rising costs of healthcare, and complex health systems raise challenging ethical and policy problems.  Moreover, progress in these areas requires research involving human subjects.  Ethical conduct in each of these areas, and informed policy governing them, require a complex balancing of values across varied stakeholders.  CMU philosophy is particularly well-placed to engage with issues in bioethics and research ethics due to the heavily interdisciplinary nature of the faculty’s research.  The result is bioethics research that makes full use of the distinctively rich set of resources available to our community.

For example, as new drugs, devices, and procedures are developed for dissemination into clinical practice, questions arise about how to reconcile the need for rigorous scientific evaluation of those interventions with the interests and safety of research participants and host populations.  Responsible research must therefore integrate ethical values along with statistical and methodological constraints in research conception, design, and conduct.  Both Alex John London and Danielle Wenner focus on foundational issues surrounding ethical and methodological challenges in human subjects research, frequently collaborating with colleagues with expertise in statistics and decision theory, including Teddy Seidenfeld, Jay Kadane (CMU Statistics and Data Science), and Kevin Zollman.

Research conducted in and on underprivileged populations presents special ethical concerns regarding how best to balance considerations of benefits to the populations hosting research while treating participants and communities respectfully. Both London and Wenner have focused on the kinds of policies and ethical standards that should limit research conducted in low- and middle-income settings.  Similarly, London and Zollman have collaborated to examine how health deficits drive benefits to low-income populations from research down.

Many of the most important issues in research ethics come down to balancing risks and burdens to research subjects with benefits to science and society from research.  Both London and Wenner have looked at how social value should be construed in clinical research, how social value should be balanced against risks to research participants and host communities, and how regulatory frameworks should function to best incentivize stakeholders to produce research of the highest social value given their varied, and sometimes conflicting, parochial interests.

For more information about bioethics research at CMU Philosophy, visit the Center for Ethics and Policy.