IRBs and the Constitution

A flurry of discussion on IRBs continues on the Cheiron listserv, much of it regarding the claim that IRBs are by their very nature unconstitutional and should therefore be abolished. One respondent referred me to the ACLU website.

I couldn’t find any information from ACLU regarding the ways in which IRBs limit free speech — although I did find some interesting things on privacy of patient records and protection of human subjects involved in medical research (especially “captive” populations in prisons and juvenile detention centers.”

This brings us all back to why these IRBs were created in the first place. Laura Stark sent me a copy of her excellent article, “Victims in our Own Minds? IRBs in Myth and Practice,” in the most recent issue of Law and Society Review. The article does an excellent job of reminding us why review for social science research originated in the first place. She also confirmed my impression that many of the replies on the listserv were patronizing, and the charge of unconstitutionality just plain silly.

I also plugged my own article, “Using Student Bodies: College and University Students as Research Subjects,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 57 (2002): 3-38, which gives my further thoughts on human subjects research.

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