Higher Standards for Privately Funded Health Research

 Canadian Bioethics Society Newsletter, Vol. 9, No. 1, February 2004.


Download the whole paper, Higher Standards for Privately Funded Health Research (469k PDF file)


Chris MacDonald, Ph.D.

Department of Philosophy,

Saint Mary's University




Privately funded health research should be held to a higher standard of ethical conduct than publicly funded research. While much has been written about the relative lack of oversight for privately funded health research, little has been said about the standards to which such research should be held. The assumption seems to be that the source of funding has implications for how funding is handled, and for the lengths to which researchers must go to avoid conflict of interest, but that as far as research ethics goes, standards are standards, and sources of funding just donít matter.

But governments in democracies have political legitimacy that gives them the authority to make at least some decisions on behalf of citizens. This legitimacy may extend into the world of clinical research and imply, for example, a less rigorous consent process. For-profit corporations, on the other hand, lack political legitimacy. They canít assume that individuals (i.e., would-be research subjects) endorse their corporate goals, because individuals canít assume that corporations have their eye on the public good. We as citizens are right to be wary of corporations; hence we as potential research subjects are right to want corporately funded research held to higher standards.