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Books, Journals, New Media
August 11, 2004

Ethics, Research

Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(6):744-745. doi:10.1001/jama.292.6.744

Few institutions enjoy as deep a reservoir of public support as biomedical research. At a time when many agencies are pruning their budgets, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recently completed another doubling, and headlines almost daily proclaim enticing new applications of biomedical discoveries. Bioethicist Daniel Callahan makes it clear that he considers biomedical research a social good. But can too much of a good thing do harm?

Callahan believes it can. He argues that the growth in biomedical research over the last half century is animated by an excess of what he terms the "research imperative": the view that biomedical research is an unalloyed good and a moral obligation. In Callahan's view, the research imperative sometimes tempts, and at other times inappropriately licenses, individuals and institutions involved in health care to compromise important values. In drawing commerce and the media into the laboratory, the research imperative endangers scientific integrity and disinterestedness. By holding out the prospect of prolonging life, the research imperative lures medicine from its mandate of providing comfort to the dying. In promising technical fixes for what ails us, the research imperative diverts attention from social causes of illness.