The field of psychiatry has an opportunity to construct a more refined, perhaps more enduring understanding of the ethical basis of mental illness research. The aim of this paper is to help advance this understanding by 1) tracing the evolution of the emerging ethic for biomedical experimentation, including recent recommendations of the President's National Bioethics Advisory Commission, and 2) reviewing data and concepts related to compelling ethical questions now faced in the study of mental disorders. Empirical findings on informed consent, the ethical safeguards of institutional review and surrogate decision making, and the relationship between scientific and ethical imperatives are outlined. Psychiatric researchers will increasingly be called upon to justify their scientific approaches and to seek ways of safeguarding the well-being of people with mental illness who participate in experiments. Most importantly, psychiatric investigators will need to demonstrate their appreciation and respect for ethical dimensions of investigation with special populations. Further empirical study and greater sophistication with respect to the distinct ethical issues in psychiatric research are needed. Although such measures present many challenges, they should not interfere with progress in neuropsychiatric science so long as researchers in our field seek to guide the process of reflection and implementation.
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View details for PubMedID 10536739