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Feature Article
Money, Coercion, and Undue Inducement: Attitudes about Payments to Research Participants

Using payment to recruit research subjects is a common practice, but it raises ethical concerns that coercion or undue inducement could potentially compromise participants’ informed consent. This is the first national study to explore the attitudes of IRB members and other human subjects protection professionals concerning whether payment of research participants constitutes coercion or undue influence, and if so, why. The majority of respondents expressed concern that payment of any amount might influence a participant’s decisions or behaviors regarding research participation. Respondents expressed greater acceptance of payment as reimbursement or compensation than as an incentive to participate in research, and most agreed that subjects are coerced if the offer of payment makes them participate when they otherwise would not or when the offer of payment causes them to feel that they have no reasonable alternative but to participate (82%). Views about undue influence were similar. We conclude that human subjects protection professionals hold expansive and inconsistent views about coercion and undue influence that may interfere with the recruitment of research participants and impede valuable research.

 

Key words/concepts: research ethics, human subjects protection, subject recruitment, subject payment, coercion, undue influence, institutional review boards

Using payment to recruit research subjects is a common practice, but it raises ethical concerns that coercion or undue inducement could potentially compromise participants’ informed consent. This is the first national study to explore the attitudes of IRB members and other human subjects protection professionals concerning whether payment of research participants constitutes coercion or undue influence, and if so, why. The majority of respondents expressed concern that payment of any amount might influence a participant’s decisions or behaviors regarding research participation. Respondents expressed greater acceptance of payment as reimbursement or compensation than as an incentive to participate in research, and most agreed that subjects are coerced if the offer of payment makes them participate when they otherwise would not or when the offer of payment causes them to feel that they have no reasonable alternative but to participate (82%). Views about undue influence were similar. We conclude that human subjects protection professionals hold expansive and inconsistent views about coercion and undue influence that may interfere with the recruitment of research participants and impede valuable research.

 

Key words/concepts: research ethics, human subjects protection, subject recruitment, subject payment, coercion, undue influence, institutional review boards

Emily A. Largent, Christine Grady, Franklin G. Miller, and Alan Wertheimer, "Money, Coercion, and Undue Inducement: Attitudes about Payments to Reserach Participants," IRB: Ethics & Human Research 34, no. 1 (2012): 1-8.