senior woman giving pills and glass of water to old man with walking stick

Ethics & Human Research

Legally Effective but Ethically Inadequate: Institutional Review Board Policies for Consent from Legally Authorized Representatives

ABSTRACT The prevailing approach to enrolling decisionally impaired adults in clinical research is to rely on permission from a default surrogate, one identified by law rather than by the prospective research participant. Reliance on a surrogate transfers the focus of ethical protection from a researcher-participant relationship to a researcher-surrogate relationship; the selection and role of the surrogate are therefore important. The Common Rule defers to state law governing default surrogate consent to research, but most states have no such law; for those states, the Common Rule defers to institutional policy. I reviewed twenty-five of the study sites with the highest National Institutes of Health funding levels to elaborate the content of institutional review board (IRB) policies and compare those to a suggested paradigm for ethically defensible policies. My findings suggest that IRB policies provide inadequate protection because they recognize surrogates who lack knowledge of the subject’s current values and preferences without imposing adequate additional safeguards.

Read the Article