This letter is in response to an article that appeared in the April issue of the Archives of Dermatology titled "Ethical Lapses in Dermatologic ‘Research'" by Allen Hornblum.1 The issues that Hornblum refers to in the article are important. However, the matter of the ethics of conducting research on vulnerable populations was settled some 25 years ago.
As Hornblum has acknowledged, in the 1950s and 1960s, the use of willing, compensated prisoners for biomedical research was a commonly accepted practice by this nation's scientists—most of whom were associated with major universities or the federal government. It is now understood and agreed throughout the global scientific community that prisoners—regardless of their consent to participate and/or the receipt of monies for the same—are not appropriate candidates for any biomedical experimentation. Since the use of prisoners for scientific research stopped 25 years ago, the important ethical consideration of "vulnerable population" has become widely accepted and has excluded prisoners from any further consideration as human research subjects.
Tannen RL. The Ethical Issues of the Holmesburg Studies Have Been Addressed. Arch Dermatol. 2000;136(2):268. doi: