Case Study Ethics in Research Unit

The Willowbrook Study sought to analyze the effects of gamma globulin in combating hepatitis. The study used the mentally unstable children as their study subjects and infected them with the hepatitis virus. The researcher indicated that they sought the parents` consent in conducting the studies. In this case, the subjects were of unsound mind and hence the greater ethical obligation to involve parents or guardians in the research. The children were housed at the Willowbrook mental school away from their families. The researchers initially fed the subjects with stool extracts from infected the individuals and later were injected with the virus.
Although the study sought consent from parents, the researchers did not inform the parents the risks of exposure to hepatitis involved. One of the critics of the research, Henry Beechers noted that the risk of exposure in the study was so high that no reasonably informed parent would consent to such a study (Robinson & Unruh, 2008). Informed consent requires that individuals in case of adults or parents in case of children understand the intention of a study and the risks involved through participation. In this case, it can be assumed that no parent in his right mind would consent to his child, regardless of his mental state to be fed stool extracts from other people infected with hepatitis. The researcher argued that there was minimal risk because the children would `inevitably` develop hepatitis courtesy of the conditions at the school. The American psychological association requires that research participants are well informed of the purpose, procedures and factors that may influence one`s inclination to participate such as risks involved (Apa 2003). Furthermore, since there were no forthcoming benefits to the participants, the research in itself was morally wrong (Goldby et al., 1971). This particular case illustrates the ethical and moral issues that should guide research especially that involving humans.
Apa, (2003). Five principles for research ethics. Retrieved from
Case. Human Experimentation Case: Willowbrook Experiments. (n.d.). retrieved from,
Robinson, W. M., & Unruh, B. T. (2008). The Hepatitis Experiments at the Willowbrook State
School. The Oxford Textbook of Clinical Research Ethics, 80-85. Retrieved from,
Stephen Goldby, Saul Krugman, M.H. Pappworth and Geoffrey Edsall (1971). The Willowbrook
Letters: Criticisms and Defense. The Lancet, April 10, May 8, June 5, and July 10, 1971

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