Volume 13, Issue 2, Fall 1999
Codes of Medical Ethics and the Exportation of Less-Than-Standard Care
Recently a number of AIDS/AZT research studies, carried out by U.S. universities, have come under intense ethical scrutiny. In these studies, control groups of HIV-positive pregnant women were being given a placebo rather than AZT. Such research protocols would be illegal if practiced in the U.S. I examine a number of lamentable ethical lapses in the studies, and conclude that at least some of these ethical problems are traceable to a troubling contradiction between differing international codes of ethics. In a word, some international codes mandate that all research subjects (including control groups) receive the best standard of care available in the country sponsoring the research, while others suggest that providing only a “Iocal” standard of care is ethically appropriate. I argue that these two ethical mandates cannot both be satisfied, and that host country populations will remain subject to exploitation unless this contradiction is resolved.