The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has posted a new series of educational modules on vulnerable populations on its website, Bioethics.gov. These include a background module on vulnerable populations, as well as report-specific modules on vulnerable populations in two Bioethics Commission Reports: Safeguarding Children: Pediatric Medical Countermeasure Research and “Ethically Impossible”: STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948.
The “Vulnerable Populations Background” module describes vulnerability and how the term “vulnerable populations” is traditionally defined; provides historical examples of research that exploited vulnerable populations; explores ethical principles applicable to research with vulnerable populations; and identifies various codes of conduct, guidelines, and regulations that shaped human subjects research protections generally, and protections for research with vulnerable populations specifically. To illustrate the history of human subjects research and the emergence of special protections for vulnerable populations, the module also includes a timeline of notable research and related events.
The “Vulnerable Populations in Safeguarding Children: Pediatric Medical Countermeasure Research” module focuses on children as a vulnerable population generally, and on pediatric medical countermeasure (MCM) research specifically. This module provides instructors with an explanation of the ways that children are vulnerable; current regulations for protecting children in pediatric research, including the Bioethics Commission’s ethical framework to guide national-level review of pediatric MCM research when appropriate; as well as scientific, practical, and ethical challenges of conducting MCM research with children.
The third module highlights the Bioethics Commission’s analysis on vulnerable populations in “Ethically Impossible”: STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948.” The experiments in Guatemala involved the intentional exposure of vulnerable populations—prisoners, soldiers, psychiatric patients, and commercial sex workers—to sexually transmitted diseases without their consent. For guided readings and discussion questions about vulnerable populations in the U.S. Public Health Service STD research studies in Guatemala, the module refers instructors to A Study Guide to “Ethically Impossible” STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948.
All of the vulnerable populations modules are based on the contemporary issues addressed by the Bioethics Commission and aim to provide instructors with foundational information, ethical reasoning, applications, questions, discussion points, and additional readings to support ethics education and integrate bioethical analysis into existing curricula across disciplines.
Future modules on vulnerable populations will integrate other reports from the Bioethics Commission.
All Bioethics Commission educational materials are free and available at www.bioethics.gov/education. The Bioethics Commission encourages feedback on its materials at email@example.com.