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Hastings Center Report

Learning Health Care and the Obligation to Participate in Research

Abstract: This commentary responds to the article “Compulsory Research in Learning Health Care: Against a Minimal Risk Limit,” by Robert Steel. Steel acknowledges that our ethics framework for a learning health care system, published in the 2013 special report Ethical Oversight of Learning Health Care Systems, includes an obligation on the part of patients to participate in learning activities, but he argues that this obligation does not go far enough. Steel, who provides an interesting justification for compulsory research participation in learning health care, claims that our obligation is limited to only minimal risk research. We take exception to that characterization insofar as it detracts from what we believe is most relevant for assessing learning activities, which is how much additional risk and burden a learning activity poses compared to clinical care alone. We also clarify that the level of additional risk is not the only morally relevant consideration in determining if a learning activity should be compulsory. Also important is whether the learning activity includes interventions or choices that engage values of importance to patients.

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