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  • IRB: ETHICS & HUMAN RESEARCH

How Should Risks and Benefits Be Balanced in Research Involving Pregnant Women and Fetuses?

In research involving pregnant women and fetuses, a number of questions arise concerning the balancing of risks and benefits. In research that holds out a prospect of direct benefit for the woman, how much risk to the fetus is permissible? How should the principle of minimizing risks be applied when there are two subjects—pregnant woman and fetus? Should risks for each of them be minimized? What if minimizing risks for one increases risks for the other? These and other questions are not addressed in the current federal regulations for the protection of human subjects. This paper reviews the current regulations, attempts to identify issues that need to be addressed, considers alternative viewpoints concerning those issues, and argues for particular views. It concludes with a set of proposed guidelines for balancing risks and benefits in research involving pregnant women and fetuses.

Key words/concepts: research ethics, human subjects protections, risk-benefit analysis, research involving women, research involving fetuses

Carson Strong, “How Should Risks and Benefits Be Balanced in Research Involving Pregnant Women and Fetuses?” IRB: Ethics & Human Research 33, no. 6 (2011): 1-5.

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