The Origins of a Moral Logic of Risk

Sydney A. Halpern

in Lesser Harms

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2004 | ISBN: 9780226314518
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226314532 | DOI:
The Origins of a Moral Logic of Risk

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Medical research communities have longstanding traditions for handling the risks that human experiments entail. A cornerstone of these traditions is the logic of lesser harms, whereby hazardous interventions are moral if they generate net benefit and the risks are lower than those of the natural disease. Other expectations have accompanied lesser-harm reasoning. Clinical researchers, for example, require that animal tests precede human experiments. Also, many have begun human testing by first experimenting on themselves. This chapter examines historical episodes in which those initiating and studying medical innovations articulated or displayed their moral logic with clarity, focusing on the politics of smallpox vaccination. It sheds light on the character of experimenters' informal morality and the purposes their moral logic has served. It argues that traditions for conducting human experiments are, in large measure, an outgrowth of the cognitive norms of science. The chapter looks at moratoria and animal testing as legacies of laboratory medicine, along with self-experimentation and the “morality of method.”.

Keywords: medical research; clinical researchers; moral logic; lesser harms; vaccination; smallpox; human experiments; self-experimentation; animal testing; morality of method

Chapter.  9126 words. 

Subjects: Health, Illness, and Medicine

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