Manipulation in the Enrollment of Research Participants

Hastings Center Report 43 (2):38-47 (2013)
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In this paper we analyze the non-coercive ways in which researchers can use knowledge about the decision-making tendencies of potential participants in order to motivate them to consent to research enrollment. We identify which modes of influence preserve respect for participants’ autonomy and which disrespect autonomy, and apply the umbrella term of manipulation to the latter. We then apply our analysis to a series of cases adapted from the experiences of clinical researchers in order to develop a framework for thinking through the ethics of manipulating people into research participation. All manipulation disrespects autonomy and is therefore pro tanto wrong. However, only deceptive manipulation invalidates the consent that results from it. Use of the other forms of manipulation can be permissible, but only if the outcome of using manipulation is sufficiently good and if the research cannot be carried out using ethically preferable means to obtain consent.

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Joseph Millum
University of St. Andrews


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