According to ethicist George Annas, the bioethics movement as institutional- ized in research ethics boards and committees has affected medical research only slightly. In his words, the primary mission [of research ethics committees] is to protect the institution by providing an alternative forum to litigation or unwanted publicity. . . . [For this reason] its membership is almost exclusively made up of researchers (not potential subjects) from the particular institution. These committees have changed the face of research in the U.S. by requiring investigators to justify their research on humans to a peer review group prior to recruiting subjects. But this does not mean that they have made research universally more “ethical.” In at least a few spectacular instances, these committees have provided ethical and legal cover that enabled experiments to be performed that otherwise would not have been because of their potentially devastating impact on human subjects.
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