Anthony conducts research on emerging technologies in regenerative medicine. While on the train home from work, he starts chatting with the man sitting next to him. When Anthony mentions that he is researching regenerative medicine, the man becomes very interested and starts asking a lot of questions. Anthony ends up talking to the man for nearly an hour and explains to him the potential therapies which could be developed from his research.
The man then says that he would want to undergo these experimental therapies even if it meant he would only live a couple more years. Anthony then realizes that this man is in a wheelchair (a divider prevented him from seeing this sooner), and that the man is willing to do anything to regain his ability to walk. Anthony explains that his research is many years away from human testing, but the man says he would sign up for any testing, even if it wasn’t safe.
As a scientist, what are Anthony’s ethical responsibilities when discussing his research? Does a person so desperate for a cure truly understand the consequences associated with experimental treatments? Is it wrong to provide hope for these individuals, especially considering that many therapies are years away from being used in humans?
Clare Bartlett was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.