Should HIV Vaccine Human Test Subjects be Told It INCREASES Their Risk?

Of course! But some think otherwise. Here’s the story in the San Francisco Chronicle, byline Sabin Russell:

Evidence is building that an experimental AIDS vaccine given to 1,500 volunteers not only failed to protect those who received it, but may have put some of them at higher risk of contracting HIV than those who were given a placebo…Enrollment in the study was halted at the time, but researchers are still tracking the HIV status of the participants.

The question before the house, apparently, is whether to tell those who did not receive placebo that they may be at greater risk:

Everett Holden, 34, of San Francisco, was one of 137 Bay Area residents who volunteered to be a human guinea pig. He, like the other volunteers, has not been told whether he was given three injections of vaccine or placebo, but he said it was a little frightening to learn that the experiment might increase his risk. “It’s the last thing you would have expected from participating in the study,” he said.

Researchers will decide within 10 days whether to disclose to the 3,000 participants which of them received the vaccine. To do so would give volunteers some potentially useful information about their risk of contracting the AIDS virus, but it would also put a quick end to the experiment before scientists can fully understand the results.

Holden said that he is not in any hurry to find out if he might be at higher risk. “The reason I got into this study was to make a difference,” he said. “If there is still something to be learned, I’m willing to continue.”

He should be told, or at least, he should be able to find out if that is his desire. And, it seems to me, that participants should be able to continue on with the study with this knowledge if that is their desire. But given the potential life threatening consequences, this should be an informed decision.

Look at it this way: If the vaccine showed great value in preventing infection, at some point the volunteers receiving placebo should be told and given the vaccine. This values the equal moral worth of all human life. I don’t see why the reverse shouldn’t also be true. People’s health in this situation should come before the knowledge that might be derived from completing the experiment by keeping the volunteers in the dark.

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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