Human Subjects Research: Standards and Protections

The ethical treatment of subjects rests at the heart of modern-day human research protocols. The first section of this entry presents a brief history of the standards for human subject research, which is followed by a summary of the basic principles applied today.


Standards for human subject research evolved over the course of the 20th century. From the time of Hippocrates through the 18th century, society did not question the right of a doctor to make decisions about patient treatment. Questions about physicians’ authority only emerged during the 19th century with the rise of experimental medicine, especially in cases in which the research could inflict pain or spread disease. Antivivisectionists were among the first to challenge the ethics of medical research, a debate that soon broadened ...

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