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Using Prisoners For Medical Research



BY: Rose-Marie Chaperon | Category: Issues | Submitted: 2011-09-30 09:31:53

The subject of interest to me this week is the use of prisoners for medical research. I disagree with using prisoners for medical research or as test subject no matter what crimes they have committed. This practice is unethical and I would apply the theory of Utilitarianism to show how these actions are not right and therefore that good may be achieved under conditions that are harmful to some. Even if the prisoners are on death row, they should be treated as human being because eventually some of these prisoners will be released back outside with more problems than before. Plus, no matter whether they are in prison or out, they are still human beings first and there are always long term health concerns to be addressed. Prisoner research is about exploitation, profit and expediency, not about the benefit of prisoners.

There are many reasons why prisoners should not be used in research; the most important one is an ethical issue. The main ethical issues relevant to research with prisoners are respect for persons, justice, and the theory of Utilitarianism. Within the ethical guidelines there is a conflict between protecting prisoners from exploitation in research and prisoners right to participate in research. This group is considered as a vulnerable group and incapable of protecting their own interests therefore in my opinion should be excluded.

Often many prisoners are used for clinical trials for drugs and are not even aware of it. Many people when they go to prison are put on drugs that they do not have any clue what the drug is and why they are taking it. We will be committing a crime by forcing someone to endure medical procedures against their will. Additionally, many prisoners are tried on different anti-psychotic medications that they actually do not need while little or no explanation is given to these prisoners. The drug manufacturers use these prisoners as guinea pigs while the drug clinical and testing that is done on prisoners that fails the public never hears about. The drug companies do not want their failures or their test subjects known to the public.

In my opinion the vulnerable population of prisoners is considered to be of diminished capacity, and it is linked to the ethical principle of respect for persons. They are allowed full protection from harm from the government, they cannot be used as subject as a way of repaying their debts to society. The alternatives to using prisoners as human subjects can be exchanged for the use of animals which will help better understand human anatomy and human disease. Since Animals and humans are similar in many ways and animal behavior can be as complex as human behavior, replacing animals for humans is justifiable.

One might object here that the government should use prisoners especially death row inmates to perform medical research on instead of innocent animals such as monkeys, rabbits, etc. they might use the Act-Utilitarianism principle in these experiments to gain information and hopefully to use that information to assist people, to cure illnesses, and to alleviate pain. After all, they are trying to see the effects a drug may have on humans since these prisoners are not considered to be humans due to the nature of their crimes. It might seem that prisoners are just sitting there wasting tax payers money when they could be helping a great cause.

I can understand the logic behind such reasoning and Act Utilitarianism would permit research on vulnerable subjects to increase or protect the general welfare. Of course, the fact that Act-Utilitarian theories imply the moral permissibility of these experiments could be used to justify the experiments or reject Act-Utilitarian theories. In their point of view those who have committed crimes against humanity such as rape, incest, murder and upon being found guilty should repay their debt to society. Another argument could be that they donate themselves to the transplant doctors and give their parts away. This would allow the medical society access to eye transplants, heart transplants, liver; better drug research and it will help in the reduction of destroying innocent animals. From looking at it form a different angle; I would agree that prisoners should not be allowed back in society because they usually repeat their crimes again once they are out and using them as experiment could have a great impact on those awaiting medical treatments.

The fact still remains that these prisoners should be protected because they are a vulnerable group and there is a moral difference between the experiments performed on prison inmates and the experiments performed on animals and those who are able to consent to it. Using prisoners for medical experiments might be construed as "cruel and unusual punishment" and there are no theoretical grounds that could be given to morally justify the experiments.

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