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Belmont Report

The historical development of technology, psychology, and the society in general has exerted a significant impact on all areas of human life and activity, including education, philosophy, as well as personal and professional relations. Due to the creation of new medication and treatment techniques that allow curing various illnesses, one of the spheres that have been affected most is medicine. The development of these innovations required thorough and dedicated research, which involved performing tests on human subjects with an aim to improve their efficiency and eliminate possible drawbacks and side effects. Preserving rights of individuals involved in clinical trials required the implementation of a strict set of ethical norms secured by law. The Belmont Report marked a milestone in the history of medical ethics, because it provided clear recommendations on dealing with human subjects of biomedical and behavioral research. Therefore, it would be beneficial to analyze the impact of the report’s implementation on the development of modern ethical principles in the medical environment.

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First, it is essential to review the brief history of the Belmont Report, its keys positions, and recommendations. In 1974, the adoption of the National Research Act led to the formation of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (The Belmont Report, 1979). The group’s main goal was to protect rights of individuals involved in clinical trials by identifying ethical principles for scientists and developing guidelines that would ensure their adherence to the code of ethics. One of the main reasons for conducting the Belmont Report was ensuring that war crimes committed by the Nazi scientists against human test subjects during the Second World War would never happen again (Childress, Meslin, & Shapiro, 2005, p. 2-12).

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Therefore, the Commission concentrated on several major aspects of medical research: the difference between actual research and common medical practice; the necessity of acknowledging possible risks and benefits for society and human subjects involved in the research; recommendations for choosing appropriate individuals for clinical trials; and the importance of informed consent in various types of research (The Belmont Research, 1979). Eventually, their work resulted in the creation of the Belmont Report that identified the ethical principles of performing research involving human test subjects and offered recommendations for the adoption by the government.

The Commission insisted that it was essential to distinguish between biomedical and behavioral research and medical practice in order to determine when people should be considered test subject and receive appropriate protection. According to this opinion, common procedures are aimed at providing diagnoses, preventive treatment, and therapy to improve the health of patients, while scientific research is designed for testing hypothesis and techniques to organize knowledge and develop new means of treatment (The Belmont Report, 1979). Therefore, the Committee insisted that any untested activity that may produce unexpected effects on patients should be reviewed to protect human subjects. This position statement has greatly contributed to the development of social responsibility among researchers and ensured that the majority of innovative practices are incorporated into formal research projects (Vanderpool, 2006).

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Additionally, the Commission concentrated on promoting basic ethical principles among medical practitioners. In particular, three most important aspects of ethics should be maintained when dealing with human test subjects: respect for persons, justice, and beneficence (The Belmont Report, 1979). The first principle involves treating each person as an individual capable of making autonomous decisions and providing essential protection to those lacking this ability. Therefore, scientists should respect a person’s needs and pay more attention to people with disabilities. Justice concentrates on providing equal treatment to all human subjects despite background differences and sharing the results of research with all who can benefit from it. Therefore, this principle implicates that it is unethical to use unwilling groups of people, such as prisoners, for conducting clinical trials, and that all members of society should be provided with the advantages of medical innovation regardless of their financial capabilities.

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The third principle implies that it is necessary not only to protect test subjects from harm but also positively affect their health (The Belmont Report, 1979). Scientists also need to consider the beneficence of research to the whole society when managing the possible risks of innovative treatment. The application of this ethical principle in medicine has resulted in the emergence of the opportunity to use children as test subjects upon receiving their personal agreement and approval from parents (Carroll and Gutmann, 2011). Such practice has proven to be beneficial for the society due to the invention of various types of treatment for childhood and inherited diseases.

The Commission insisted that all research should be performed according to three essential recommendations: informed consent, risk/benefit assessment, and selection of subjects (The Belmont Report, 1979). The first one implies that subject should be able to choose what they shall or shall not be exposed to. This principle ensures that people do not endure trials unwillingly or under the application of either psychological or physical pressure. Therefore, human subjects should receive essential information on the research, be comprehensible, and volunteer to participate (The Belmont Report, 1979). The assessment of risks and benefits implies that scientists gather sufficient and relevant data and process it thoroughly before conducting actual tests. This principle ensures that a review committee can clearly determine whether the potential advantages for the society justify the treatment of individuals involved in research. The third recommendation implies that researchers treat all subjects equally despite such differences, i.e. the color of skin, gender, age, and social and cultural background. The adoption of these principles has allowed improving the quality of research, developing innovative medicine and treatment techniques, and protecting the rights of people.

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In conclusion, the Belmont Report emphasized the importance of adhering to basic ethical principles for medical practitioners and securing human subjects involved in tests and clinical trials. The adoption of the recommendations provided in the report has allowed increasing the efficiency of research, inventing new medicine and treatment techniques, and protecting the rights of people.

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