The Overlooked Risk of Intimate Violation in Research: No Perianal Sampling Without Consent

American Journal of Bioethics 24 (4):118-120 (2024)
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There are few moral principles less controversial than “don’t touch people’s private parts without consent.” Though the principle doesn’t make explicit that there are exceptions, there clearly are some. Parents must wipe their infants. If an unconscious patient is admitted to the emergency room with a profusely bleeding laceration on their genitals, a doctor must give them stitches. The researchers who proposed the study in question, which would look for a connection between burn patients’ microbiomes and their clinical outcomes, presumably believed they had identified an additional exception to the aforementioned principle. I argue that they did not. Rather, because of their tremendous inherent risks, we ought only to perform intimate procedures on those who can’t consent when the procedure is for their own good. Intimate violations have been overlooked in both philosophy and medicine. Because of this, we have lacked an adequate conceptual framework for identifying certain kinds of harms research can inflict. When we understand these special risks, we see that the IRB was right to deny a waiver of consent.

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Jasmine Gunkel
National Institute of Health


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