Research ArticleOpen Access

Ethical, social, and legal issues surrounding studies of susceptible populations and individuals.

    Published: by:14

    Calls for professional accountability have resulted in the development of ethics guidelines by numerous specialty and subspecialty groups of scientists. Indeed, guidelines among some health professions now address vulnerable and dependent groups: but these are silent on issues related to biomarkers. In parallel, attention has been drawn to human rights concerns associated with attempts to detect hypersusceptible workers, especially in democratic countries. Despite this, concern for vulnerable populations grows as advances in biomarker technology make the identification of genetic predisposition and susceptibility markers of both exposure and outcome more attainable. In this article, the principles derived from the ethical theory of utilitarianism provide the basis for principle-based ethical analysis. In addition, the four principles of biomedical ethics--respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and social justice--are considered for biomarker studies. The need for a context in which ethical analysis is conducted and from which prevailing social values are shown to drive decisions of an ethical nature is emphasized; these include statutory regulation and law. Because biomarker studies can result in more harm than good, special precautions to inform research participants prior to any involvement in the use of biomarkers are needed. In addition, safeguards to maintain the privacy of data derived from biomarker studies must be developed and implemented prior to the application of these new technologies. Guidelines must be expanded to incorporate ethical, social, and legal considerations surrounding the introduction of new technologies for studying susceptible populations and individuals who may be vulnerable to environmental exposures.