The Social Nature of Moral Action

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 Social Nature of Moral Action

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Social control of human experimentation in the United States can be thought of as having three distinct phases. In the first, extending through the early decades of the twentieth century, oversight of medical research was the exclusive purview of communities of scientists that maintained rich traditions for the moral conduct of human experiments. The second phase dates to the middle third of the twentieth century, while the third phase, beginning in the 1960s, saw government agencies inaugurate formal regulation of human experimentation. Harvard anesthesiologist Henry Beecher, a whistle blower from within the scientific community, declared in the mid-1960s that researchers were routinely conducting excessively risky human experiments with little or no benefit for participants. If both indigenous morality and organizational procedures for risk management were in place, how could scientists have committed investigatory excesses on this scale? This chapter explores the social nature of moral action with respect to medical research. It first describes the changing cultural context of medical research and then turns to the emergence of government regulation. It concludes by discussing moral traditions in historical perspective.

Keywords: social control; human experiments; government regulation; medical research; moral traditions; United States; scientists; risk management; indigenous morality

Chapter.  5062 words. 

Subjects: Health, Illness, and Medicine

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