Against the inalienable right to withdraw from research

Eric Chwang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In this paper I argue, against the current consensus, that the right to withdraw from research is sometimes alienable. In other words, research subjects are sometimes morally permitted to waive their right to withdraw. The argument proceeds in three major steps. In the first step, I argue that rights typically should be presumed alienable, both because that is not illegitimately coercive and because the general paternalistic motivation for keeping them inalienable is untenable. In the second step of the argument, I consider three special characteristics of the right to withdraw, first that its waiver might be exploitative, second that research involves intimate bodily access, and third that it is irreversible. I argue that none of these characteristics justify an inalienable right to withdraw. In the third step, I examine four considerations often taken to justify various other allegedly inalienable rights: concerns about treating yourself merely as a means as might be the case in suicide, concerns about revoking all your future freedoms in slavery contracts, the resolution of coordination problems, and public interest. I argue that the motivations involved in these four types of situations do not apply to the right to withdraw from research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)370-378
Number of pages9
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


  • Alienable
  • Ethics
  • Inalienable
  • Research
  • Rights
  • Subject
  • Withdraw


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