Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Might Lead to a Couple of Snags

With funding scarce, some researchers are considering the possibility of charging patients to take part in clinical research, a group of bioethicists say in Science Translational Medicine.

In particular, the University of Pennsylvania's Ezekiel Emanuel and Steven Joffe say a former professor asked them about the ethics and legality of charging patients about $30,000 to cover the cost of studying an experimental precision diagnostic test, as they add in a New York Times op-ed.

Emanuel, Joffe, and their colleagues note in STM that there are arguments in support of having patients pay to take part in research. It could, for instance, lead to more engaged participants and collaborative partnerships between researchers and participants as well as enable the funding of studies that might otherwise be overlooked. In addition, proponents might argue that people should have the right to do what they want with their money as long as doesn't harm others.

At the same time, there are arguments against such payments, the bioethicists say. It could lead to the exploitation of people desperate to find a treatment for themselves or a loved one, people could feel pressured to participate, undermining the voluntary nature of participation, and people who pay may be less willing to undergo randomization and potentially not receive an experimental treatment.

What's "worrisome is how payments might undermine the research enterprise," Emanuel and Joffe say in the Times, adding that they disagree with a pay-to-play approach.

"Researchers are understandably frustrated with the diminishing support for clinical trials and the increasing competition for limited research resources," they and their colleagues say in STM. "However, charging people to participate in research is likely to undermine the fundamental ethical bases of clinical research, especially the principles of social value, scientific validity, and fair subject selection."