Ethics in human subject research has generated robust discussion and a growing body of literature for at least 50 years. During the same time period the scientific study of aging has emerged. There is now substantial agreement on the basic principles of human research ethics— principles that apply to all subjects regardless of age. Still, the process of normal aging, diseases associated with aging, and the environments in which we age all give rise to ethical issues and concerns not typically related to research with younger subjects. This chapter will discuss some of the significant issues that arise when principles for the ethical treatment of research subjects are applied to aging subjects. I shall also point to some of the ways in which researchers have addressed those issues in the design and execution of their own research.
After a brief review of sources for ethical principles in research, I will look at several kinds of ethical issues. First, we will look at the complexity of respecting the human autonomy of older research subjects. Then we will look at how the environment, in this case the nursing home environment, itself creates new ethical issues for the conduct of research. Finally, we will look at a contemporary debate that questions the goodness and rightness of aging research itself.
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