Negotiating Moral Boundaries: The Polio Vaccines of 1934–1935

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:
Negotiating Moral Boundaries: The Polio Vaccines of 1934–1935

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Sociologists consider the problem group, or research network, to be the basic unit in the organization of scientific work. Members of these networks are bearers and adjudicators of moral traditions for handling investigatory risk. Their assessments of research findings are vital to applications of lesser-harm reasoning. When interpreting evidence relevant to research hazards and benefits, scientists base their evaluations on what some scholars have called “local knowledge.” This chapter examines a case in which a research network acted to stop the use of vaccines that it deemed too hazardous. In July 1934, two groups of American researchers, each with its own immunizing agent, began human vaccinations against poliomyelitis. From the outset, members of the community of virus researchers had questions about the polio vaccines' safety and efficacy. Analysis of this controversy clarifies the ways that the technical culture of science comes to play in deliberations over the morality of human experiments. This chapter also points to the importance that research networks place on the legitimacy of human interventions to outside audiences.

Keywords: polio vaccines; human experiments; morality; research networks; local knowledge; safety; efficacy; research hazards

Chapter.  9948 words. 

Subjects: Health, Illness, and Medicine

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