The Morality of Medical Experimentation on Prisoners

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The Morality of Medical Experimentation on Prisoners
Medicine is one of the most glorified of all sciences for its reputation of saving lives. The medical advancements we have made in the last few centuries have prolonged our lifespan considerably, reduced much unnecessary suffering, and given many of us with genetic disorders a chance to lead a normal life. However, like most things glorified, medicine has its dark side, for such advancements were not made without tremendous sacrifice and experimentation. Experimentation, specifically human experimentation, is necessary in order to improve medical treatments for many human specific diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and HIV/AIDS. Through the process of trial and error, results are often disastrous in regards to human experimentation; the intended effect becomes trivial, and a miscalculation or unintended effect contributes to the serious injury of a patient, sometimes even resulting in death. It has been suggested that because of the risk involved in human experimentation, prisoners would make ideal candidates to participate in this form of medical progress for their lack of significance, their debt to society, and even their obligation to past generations, to name a few. This paper will argue that this view is seriously flawed and that forcing medical experimentation onto prisoners, or coercing them into participating, can under no circumstances be morally acceptable. Kantian ethics argues that individuals, or in this case prisoners, have the prima facie right to volunteer for medical experiments, because they inherently have the right to self determination.[i] Although this is a true statement, prisoners can never truly volunteer for a medical experiment because of the numerous factors which inhibit their ability to make informed, voluntary choices in regards to consenting to the experiments in question.[ii] Volunteering must, under all circumstances, be an independent choice free from persuasion and obligation. These independent choices are made more difficult for prisoners, for they have very few self-governed aspects of their own life. In prison, there are officials who tell prisoners when to sleep, eat, and even exercise. Prisoners are contained in a controlled environment to restrain them from acting on their own free will. After all, if this were not the case, prison would be a very chaotic place, and rehabilitation would be nearly futile. For these reasons, it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, for prisoners to volunteer for a medical experiment while providing informed voluntary consent. It is of the utmost importance to receive an informed, voluntary consent from prisoners before proceeding with any sort of medical experiment. This is important for the prisoners so that they become aware of what they are getting themselves into. A prisoner must maintain control of what happens to his or her body, and in order to do this, must be aware of all the circumstances pertaining to any given experiment. Without being informed of all the potential risks involved in an experiment, as well as the purpose of the experimentation, they will have no good cause of action, regardless of whether the outcome of the experiment is positive or negative.[iii] Having this knowledge will allow an individual to withdraw from the experiment if need be, which is very important, considering all the risks involved. Additionally, volunteering in a medical experiment can be considered a very noble gesture. Self sacrifice for the greater good is what many consider to be an honor, much like giving blood. Blood donors in general are intellectual people with a good understanding of the importance of giving blood. They do this out of their own free will, primarily to help save lives, and not out of obligation. Prisoners and good citizens alike are never coerced into giving blood, and henceforth shouldn’t be coerced into medical experimentation. Coercing prisoners into human experimentation...
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