Research is a powerful way to learn and think, to identify gaps in knowledge, to find solutions to problems. It advances human knowledge, empowers individuals to make informed decisions, and creates new businesses.
In this article, we will consider how benefits and burdens of the research are equitably distributed (also known as “distributive justice”). Benefits may be direct, where a person experiences amelioration of a health condition or learning new information about a social issue as a result of participation in research. They also may take the form of information sharing, training for local personnel, or establishment of health care or similar services.
Determinations about justice require careful scrutiny of participant selection and enrollment processes. This includes close attention to whether particular classes of research subjects (e.g., welfare patients, racial and ethnic minorities, or persons confined to institutions) are being selectively recruited because of their easy availability or convenience to the research investigator. The core principles of Respect for Persons, Concern for Welfare, and Justice entail special ethical obligations toward such vulnerable groups. They should be protected from being involved in research solely for administrative convenience, or because they are easy to manipulate as a result of their illness or socioeconomic condition.