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Opinion 2.30 - Information From Unethical Experiments

All proposed experiments using human subjects should undergo proper ethical evaluation by a human studies review board before being undertaken.

Responsibility for revealing that the data are from unethical experiments lies in the hands of authors, peer reviewers, and editors of medical texts that publish results of experimental studies. Each publication should adopt a standard regarding publication of data from unethical experiments.

If data from unethical experiments can be replaced by existing ethically sound data and achieve the same ends, then such must be done. If ethically tainted data that have been validated by rigorous scientific analysis are the only data of that nature available, and such data are necessary in order to save lives, then the utilization of such data by physicians and editors may be appropriate.

Should editors and/or authors decide to publish an experiment or data from an experiment that does not reach standards of contemporary ethical conduct, a disclaimer should be included. Such disclosure would by no means rectify unethical conduct or legitimize the methods of collection of data gathered from unethical experimentation. This disclaimer should:

(1) clearly describe the unethical nature of the origin of any material being published;

(2) clearly state that publication of the data is needed in order to save human lives;

(3) pay respect to the victims;

(4) avoid trivializing trauma suffered by the participants;

(5) acknowledge the unacceptable nature of the experiments; and

(6) endorse higher ethical standards.

Based on both scientific and moral grounds, data obtained from cruel and inhumane experiments, such as data collected from the Nazi experiments and data collected from the Tuskegee Study, should virtually never be published or cited. In the extremely rare case when no other data exist and human lives would certainly be lost without the knowledge obtained from use of such data, publication or citation is permissible. In such a case, the disclosure should cite the specific reasons and clearly justify the necessity for citation.

Certain generally accepted historical data may be cited without a disclaimer, though a disclosure of the ethical issues would be valuable and desirable. (II, V, VII)

Issued December 1998 based on the report "Information from Unethical Experiments," adopted June 1998.