Providing free heroin to addicts participating in research - ethical concerns and the question of voluntariness

The Psychiatric Bulletin 38 (4):1-4 (2014)
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Abstract
Providing heroin to heroin addicts taking part in medical trials to assess the effectiveness of the drug as a treatment alternative, breaches ethical research standards, some ethicists maintain. Heroin addicts, they say, are unable to consent voluntarily to take part in these trials. Other ethicists disagree. In our view, both sides of the debate have an inadequate understanding of voluntariness. In this article we therefore offer a fuller conception, one which allows for a more flexible, case-to-case approach in which some heroin addicts are considered capable of consenting voluntarily, others not. An advantage of this approach, it is argued, is that it provides a safety net to minimize the risk of inflicting harm on trial participants.
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