Shared Vulnerabilities in Research

Eric Chwang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations governing federally funded research on human subjects assumes that harmful research is sometimes morally justifiable because the beneficiaries of that research share a particular vulnerability with its subjects. In this article, I argue against this assumption, which occurs in every subpart of the Code of Federal Regulations that deals with specific vulnerable populations (pregnant women, fetuses, neonates, prisoners, and children). I argue that shared vulnerability is no exception to the general principle that harming one person in order to benefit another is no more justifiable if the two people have traits in common. Further, shared vulnerability is not a reasonable proxy for any morally relevant desideratum of research, in particular the desire to benefit the worst off, the desire to avoid exploitation, and the desire to use vulnerable populations in research only when necessary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-11
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Bioethics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy


  • biomedical research
  • human subjects research
  • philosophy
  • research ethics


Dive into the research topics of 'Shared Vulnerabilities in Research'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this